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50-50 care arrangements - is this always the answer?

We often believe that fair is equal, half/half, 50/50 if dividing by 2 and when we talk about time that children will spend with each separated parent it seems only natural to be “fair” to both parents that their children will divide their time equally with each of them. But half the time with each parent while it might seem fair to parents is not necessarily what is fair to children or even what they may need to thrive and develop. Here we discuss some points that are worth considering when working through care arrangements for children:

Children’s Ages:

Firstly, it is well documented that children up to the age of 6-7 do not generally cope well with 50/50 care arrangements. Very often a week on week off arrangement means they are away from the other parent for too long, or changeovers every few days are too disruptive and destabilising. Younger children generally thrive better primarily in the care of one parent with frequent quality time with the other parent.

Secondly, it is not relevant to compare your children with other children of similar age and how those children are being cared for. Children reach age points with completely different, levels of maturity, life experiences and levels of education to their peers of the same age. So, each child will be more or less adaptable, comfortable and resilient in a range of similar circumstances.

Thirdly, there is no age at which a child can decide where they live. Parents can make the decisions for their children until their child turns 18. However, it is worth bearing in mind that by the time a child turns 12-14, they often have a fairly firm understanding of where they feel most comfortable spending the majority of their time and insisting that a child and the other parent follow a 50/50 care arrangement can be detrimental to ongoing positive parent/child relationships.

Children’s Needs:

Children with mental health issues, children with a severe medical diagnosis and/or children who have a diagnosis of ADHD, ADD, or Asperger’s for example often require stability and continuity of care. These children often thrive when they spend the majority of time with one stabile parent and yet still maintain a healthy positive relationship with the other parent, not always necessarily spending overnight time with them but at minimum regular periods of quality time.

It is not uncommon for children particularly pre-teens to have a closer relationship with one parent than the other. Often this is mother and daughter and father and son – but not always. Consider what your child needs now, does your child need the other parent more at this time? It is not uncommon for children to have a greater need for one parent more than the other at different periods of their lives with this sometimes changing over time.

For many children there comes a time when their social life takes on a new dimension and spending time with friends and social groupings including sports and extra-curricular activities "can" be more important to them, than spending time with their parents. Indeed, developing these social networks and commitments activities can be important to a child’s social development and learning. It will be important for parents to acknowledge this and work with the other parent and child to work these activities into care arrangements. Restricting children from taking part in these activities that they enjoy can create resentment and disinterest in spending time with the parent they perceive as blocking this interaction.

Parent’s Capacity:

It is important to consider the capacity of each parent to provide care to their children. It is not always within a parents’ capacity to provide a safe, stable environment for their children due to work commitments, remote living, economic pressure or their own health concerns, including mental health issues. Parent’s need to be realistic about their capacity to provide physical care as well as emotional availability and care for their children - a parent demanding from the other parent or a parent insisting on 50/50 care arrangements may be unrealistic or possibly be putting their children at risk.

Significant Extended Family Relationships:

The parent/child relationship is often considered more important than the relationship a child has with any other family member. However, many children have strong connections with their grandparents, cousins, aunties and uncles. Severing these relationships or making them difficult because a parent insists on 50/50 care can be damaging and distressing for children. Extended family very often also provide support to both parents after a separation and the continuity of this can be calming and stabilising for children in what can otherwise be a world which for them may have been completely turned upside down.

It is not always easy for parents to see care arrangements from a child’s perspective, but it is worth remembering that your child most likely never wanted their parents to separate so prioritising their needs, over a parent's need for “fairness” is one of the best outcomes you could give your child in this situation.

If you or someone you know finds themselves in conflict with their ex about children’s matters and would like help to navigate through family mediation or would like more information, please contact Latoya Percival or Anna Oxford at

This is not an exhaustive set of considerations and each family is unique - it is intended to provide food for thought...

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