Arranging and agreeing child contact can be a tricky business, whatever your job. However, for those that work irregular hours, or in a shift pattern, it can be especially challenging. Whether you work as a nurse, fire fighter, in the police or as an offshore worker, there are steps you can take to ensure contact arrangements run as smoothly as possible.

When the court makes a decision in relation to child contact, the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration. But it is important to note that there is no standardised approach when it comes to contact arrangements. Each child and each family are different and, when crafting contact agreement, parents can be creative and flexible with how contact is established and maintained. When dealing with shift work as a separated parent, the key themes to consider are communication, consistency, and flexibility. It is up to each family to consider ways to support and sustain contact that works for them, while placing the child's interests and wellbeing at the centre.

Communication is key for child contact

Parents working shift patterns often do not get much say in how their work pattern is established. But they may be given a rota which is created weeks or even 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 of when contact will take place. Communicating rotas and shift patterns with your child's other parent as swiftly as possible will give each parent timescales to work and plan around. With each parent (and the child) knowing who is having contact on which day, arrangements for holidays and events can be agreed well in advance. This, in turn, gives the child consistency and stability. 

If one parent is unable to have contact on the same days each week all year round, then arrangements can be negotiated so that the child will have contact with the shift worker parent on certain days when they are onshore. For those who do not know what their shift pattern will look like week to week, the focus should be on communication and flexibility. Making sure to communicate as swiftly and constructively as possible with the other parent and treating them (and their time) with respect, will make arranging contact much smoother. If there are issues with communication between parents, it may be worthwhile considering attending mediation. Mediation can help improve communication between for separated parents and you can find more about mediation here.

When the courts decide child contact arrangements

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, among other things. The court may consider a parent's working schedule. However, this will only form one part of a wider assessment of what is in the best interests of the child. The courts are unlikely to impose a strict contact schedule, if this is not something which can be adhered to due to a parent's working pattern, and the court will do its best to make an order they believe will be successful in practice. It is worth bearing in mind that taking any matter to court should be a last resort when all other possibilities including negotiation and mediation have been exhausted.

Separated parents should be encouraged to create contact arrangements which work for the whole family and to fashion a plan which is right for that family. The success of any contact arrangements will be determined by communication and flexibility of the parties. If parents can communicate effectively by agreeing consistent arrangements for contact, everyone (especially the child) wins.


Eildh McRitchie-Conacher

Senior Solicitor