We often have disputes where clients will be contesting the difference between four or five nights a fortnight and a week about arrangement. It got me thinking as to what the real differences are (if any) that drives these disputes.
The purpose of this short article is not to look at the law as it applies to week about and / or substantial time that a child spends with a parent, but rather to look at why people are often driven to dispute so much and to fight for so long about how many nights and days they have contact with their children.
Nowadays, a typical arrangement would be that the child would live with one of the parents for four to six nights a fortnight. They would then live with the other parent for the other nights in a fortnight period. The reason that this has become a generally accepted standard now is because the Family Law Act talks about the fact that the children need to have substantial time with both their parents. Substantial time is defined to include not only weekends, but also holidays and school nights.
Some 15 to 20 years ago it may have been that the children spent time with one parent each alternative weekend from Friday night to Sunday night and half school holidays and all other times with the other parent. The popularity and advent of week about arrangements has given rise to more disputes in the Family Court than ever before. Typically, when parents separate the parent who has not been the primary carer during the relationship will often demand a week about arrangement.
Each case is different and, in my view, clients need to consider their preferences from the point of view of what is best for their children. Some factors that clients should take into account when making this important decision about what arrangement they think is best for their children are as follows:-
- Focus on what you think is best for your children and not on your own personal wants and needs;
- If there was an arrangement during the relationship where one party was the primary carer and the other was not, then be careful about thinking that an immediate step into a week about arrangement is best for your children – they are not used to such an arrangement and would obviously have a greater attachment to the parent who has spent more time at home with them, especially if they are younger;
- Remove any consideration of financial matters from your decision-making process – just because the number of nights the children spend with you may dictate how much child support you pay or get, this is not relevant to the welfare of the children;
- Take a cold hard look at yourself and your circumstances – what is really best for the children, what are you work hours, how old the children are, what stage of life are they at etc;
- Consider what you think will work best for the children – if you work long and / or irregular hours, a week about arrangement may not be best for them;
- If there is a high degree of conflict with the other parent, week about arrangements usually will not work well;
- If the children spend equal time on the weekends and equal time in holidays with both parents, then the focus should be on what the best environment is for the children during their schooling and education rather than the wants and needs of each parent.
The above is just a snapshot of some things that I often have clients think about when they demand week about arrangements or oppose week about. The argument applies equally to parents who resist week about and who advocate for it. The question is not about what the parents want, but what is best for the children in the particular circumstances of the case.
The reality is that there is not a great deal of difference between five nights per fortnight and seven nights per fortnight – it is two nights. When you break it down, it effectively means that weekday school time (Monday to Thursday nights) are shared four nights to one parent and two nights to the other in a fortnight. In other words, the parent who has five nights per fortnight has two less school nights to spend with the children each fortnight. In reality, this will make no difference whatsoever to the development of the children’s relationship with you as their parent. It will have no impact on how close they are to you and no impact on their relationship with members of your extended family.
Coming to sensible parenting arrangements can be very difficult for some people after separation, but one of the best things to do is to try to stand apart from yourself and try as best as you can to view things objectively and not emotionally. It is always better to come to a compromise with the other parent as to what the parenting arrangements are rather than fight for years in the Family Court system.