Arranging and agreeing child contact can be tricky, whatever your job. For those working irregular hours, orin a shift pattern, it can be especially challenging. Whether you're a nurse, firefighter, police officer or work offshore, there are steps you can take to ensure contact arrangements run as smoothly as possible.

What are the rules for contact when I have a job that involves shifts or irregular hours?

When a court makes a decision about child contact, the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration.

Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each child and family are different and when crafting contact agreements, parents can be creative and flexible with how contact is established and maintained. It is up to each family to consider ways to support and sustain contact that works for them, while putting the child's interests and wellbeing at the centre.

What will help with reaching an agreement?

Parents working shift patterns do not often get much say in how their work pattern is established. But they may receive a rota that is created weeks or months in advance.

While it may be impossible to have contact on the same days each week, what can be defined is an agreed timetable for when contact can take place. Communicating rotas and shift patterns with your child's other parent as swiftly as possible will provide timescales to work and plan around. This then means arrangements for holidays and events can be agreed in advance - giving your child consistency and stability.

And if it's not possible to identify shift patterns well in advance, swift and constructive communication with the other parent and treating them (and their time) with respect, will make arranging contact much smoother.

If contact can't be agreed easily, is going to court the only option?

It is worth remembering that going to court should be a last resort. There are other options to try first, including negotiation and mediation. These methods involve you and the other parent, plus lawyers and other professionals (depending on the chosen method) working together to help reach a solution that works for everyone.

The main benefit of these other options is that you have a say in how child contact is approached. Going to court means that a sheriff will ultimately take that decision out of parents' hands.

What happens if we do end up going to court?

The court will consider a range of factors when making an order for contact, including the age and stage of the child, the child's relationship with their parents, the child's views, and family set-up. The court may also consider a parent's working schedule, but this is just one part of a wider assessment of what is in the child's best interests.

The court is unlikely to impose a strict contact schedule if this cannot be adhered to, due to a parent's working pattern. In those instances, the court will do its best to make an order that will be successful in practice.

Anything else to bear in mind?

Try to be as communicative and flexible as you can, to achieve a solution that works for everyone. The success of any contact arrangement will be determined by all parties taking this approach.


Eildh McRitchie-Conacher

Senior Solicitor