A separation, whether children are involved or not, can be difficult. But when one parent works away it can create extra complications.

In fact, lack of a 9-to-5 routine arises in child contact disputes across the country but those circumstances are particular prevalent in the north-east of Scotland, perhaps owing to the region's oil and gas links.

However, knowing where you stand, legally, as a parent is essential.

With a high number of clients in the oil and gas industry, we understand that work that takes parents away from home can impact parental responsibilities and that finding a way to maintain regular contact with children can be challenging.

The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 states that one of the rights afforded to those with parental rights and responsibilities in respect of a child is the right to maintain contact with that child. Beyond that, however, the legislation does not give any indication as to what the contact arrangements ought to be; and with good reason – every family is different.

There is no "one size fits all" solution when it comes to managing the arrangements for children.Those who work in the oil industry, and have a non-9-to-5 work pattern, can add another layer of complexity to an already fraught situation.

How to make arrangements for ‘onshore’ contact

Parents often work overseas, returning to Scotland after lengthy periods away, or are in and out of the country as dictated by offshore rotas.

One of the biggest challenges facing those who work away from home is uncertainty over when they will be available for contact. Sticking to the same arrangements, week in-week out may be impossible if they are required to travel on an ad hoc basis.

As long as it is clear when contact will start during each period they are home, there is no reason why contact cannot take place, regardless of how long the parent will be around for before requiring to depart for work again. For example, a rota could be set up whereby they see their children on set days each week, commencing the first weekend they are back onshore.

Could you set up a regular commitment?

Similarly, those working a more established and regular pattern should manage to commit to regular contact. In fact, those who are working offshore are often free from having any work commitments during times when they are back onshore so frequent contact is possible.

Have you considered ‘shared care’?

A shared care arrangement might also work well. The term "shared care" relates to an arrangement where children spend roughly equal time with each parent. The children of a parent whose employment involved an offshore or overseas rotation could move between their parents' households depending on who is onshore, ensuring that they spend substantial periods of time with each parent.

Co-operation is key

To make arrangements work, co-operation between parents is fundamental to a successful outcome. It is important to recognise that a parent's availability won't usually change simply because they have now separated from the child's other parent.

A degree of flexibility is crucial in these circumstances and reasonable expectations must be maintained – juggling work commitments and arrangements for children is no easy feat.

What happens when it needs to be taken to court?

If it isn't possible to agree about arrangements for children between parents, then the court will determine what should happen.

Courts are familiar with the practical issues and uncertainly caused by this type of working and Sheriffs will do their best to find a solution which works for everyone concerned.

The Sheriff will, however, only order contact they believe will have the best chance of actually taking place, bearing in mind all of the practical issues that need to be considered.

As with all cases involving children – the best interests of the child are always paramount.

A version of this article originally appeared in The Press and Journal online in January 2021.


Donna McKay

Legal Director