How to Make Shared Custody Easier On Your Kids

When parents split up, it’s common for their children to live for part of the time with each parent. This is often referred to as shared custody, although the modern term is ‘shared residence’.

Please note: this article describes the legal position in England and Wales, and not all of the information applies to Scotland or Northern Ireland.

This can be an emotional time for your children, so it’s important not to determine living arrangements without fully considering their needs or wishes.

Listen carefully to what your kids want. Involve them in the decision-making process: where would they prefer to live or go to school? Would they prefer to stay near grandparents or other relatives or friends who can offer support? Are there other arrangements they’d prefer, such as living with one parent and spending time with the other parent outside of the home?

The CAFCASS’s co-parenting hub offers tips and advice to help children during this dramatic change in living arrangements.

Making shared residence work

If your children prefer shared residence, you and your ex-partner might have to make a few lifestyle compromises. Shared custody works best if both parents continue to live fairly close to one another and to anchor-points in your child’s life, such as school and family.

While it won’t always possible to maintain good relations with your former partner, try to agree on shared residence agreements without involving the courts. Securing a shared residence order through the courts should be a last resort, as it can be a costly and stressful process. It also risks fraying relations between parents, and upsetting your children.

Instead, agree a visitation schedule with your ex-partner. Sometimes called a parenting plan, this is a written plan worked out between you and your ex to sort out the practical issues of your child’s life, like living arrangements, education, and healthcare.  It helps both parties know what’s expected of them, gives you a reference point, and helps to provide your child with stability.

You can formalise this plan by having a solicitor draw up a residence agreement (sometimes known as a custody agreement). If it becomes necessary to involve the family courts, it’s likely that judges will expect you to have tried to agree a parenting plan, so this should be your first attempt at resolution.

Should you find yourself having to ask a court to decide your child’s residence arrangements, the court will place the child’s welfare above all else. CAFCASS will also be available to offer support to you and your child if the court thinks this is appropriate.

Your next steps for shared custody

If you and your ex are unable to agree residence arrangements, consider mediation. This sees you and your partner speak to a trained professional to help reach an amicable agreement, and is often quicker, cheaper, and more effective than going to court. Legal aid is also sometimes available for mediation if your income is low.

Family mediators are often trained to speak to children, too. If your child is happy to speak to the mediator, involve them in this process. It can help alleviate their stress (over seemingly random and uncontrollable events), and improve communication between you and your kids. Find a suitable mediator through the Family Mediation Council.
Going through a break-up is difficult for all involved – especially for children, who can feel left-out, unloved, and even blame themselves for the split. Taking the time to understand their worries and meet their needs, using professional services where appropriate, is the best way to ease a challenging process for them and for you.