As a solicitor who has practised family and child law across Inverness and the Highlands and Islands for the past 10 years, I am regularly instructed by clients who work off-shore or on-shore in a shift or rota pattern be that on oil-rigs or in hospitals be they engineers, pilots, nurses, doctors or soldiers. Up here in the Highlands, we have a high proportion of shift/rota workers.

Highland work and separation

While the inherent difficulties involved in being a parent and a shift/rota worker are obvious, what might be less clear is how things change when the relationship with a spouse or partner breaks down. That once tricky but manageable arrangement between two parents who cooperated in sharing the care of their children can, following separation, become a minefield when it comes to agreeing care arrangements moving forward.

Based on my experience of working regularly with clients who are either the shift/rota parent or with the separated partner of that parent, here are my top tips for making the transition from parenting together to parenting apart as straightforward as possible:-

• Remember what the arrangement was pre-separation. Usually a shift/rota worker's pattern will remain the same post-separation as it did during the relationship. Just because parents live apart and the relationship is over does not mean that either of them should be expected to change the way they have always worked. If it worked during the relationship then it is usually possible to make it work post-separation.

• Be as transparent as possible regarding the shift/rota. Transparent and honest sharing of the shift/rota pattern with the other parent is essential if the post-separation arrangements are going to work with minimal issue. It is not uncommon for a parent to only receive their shift or rota a month in advance and the other parent needs to understand that there is little to nothing that can be done to change that. Further, if the parent who works a shift/rota is expected to share their work arrangements then the other parent should expect to do likewise, should their work pattern ever change.

• Think about things from the perspective of the child. If, for example, a child is used to not seeing a particular parent for three weeks at a time and then a lot more for another three weeks or if a child is used to seeing a parent every morning before school but rarely at bed-time, then this needs to be taken into consideration. If it is possible to replicate this arrangement post-separation then that will have minimal impact upon the child. However, if parents are unable to agree and the usual care arrangements have to change then this will have more of an impact upon the child. Most children can cope with changes such as this – what they struggle to cope with is unresolved acrimony and conflict between their parents.

• Draw up a parenting plan. It is usually best for separated parents if they can both, at a glance, see exactly what the care arrangements for their child are. This is likely to reduce any potential for conflict. There are various template parenting plans available online which can be edited to reflect a particular family's arrangement.

• Seek help if things aren’t going well. My family law colleagues and I can help parents in a number of ways. I am an accredited family law mediator and can assist both parents if they are unable to agree arrangements between themselves. I am also trained in the collaborative method of dispute resolution in which I act for one of the parents and the focus of negotiations is round-table meetings between parents with their respective solicitors.

Alternatively, I can act for one parent and a different solicitor in another firm acts for the other and the solicitors help the parents to reach an agreement regarding what the arrangements for their children should be through correspondence and meetings. It is uncommon for such disputes to result in a court action but when that does happen the Sheriff will make a decision as to what should happen. Have a look at our child contact/residence route-map for more information on the different options available for resolving child-related matters post-separation.


Sarah Lilley