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Christopher Ferguson discusses: Living with Parents in Alternate Weeks- Part 2

In November 2018 I was inviting views and anecdotal evidence about this concept. There has indeed been some reaction and I am particularly grateful to those who have contacted me, mainly in Yorkshire, but from as far afield as East Anglia. I was making the point that there may be a perception that what appeared to have been the time honoured tradition of ensuring a child had the apparent stability and security of just one home, was possibly being questioned in some courts, particularly those presided over by lay justices. Furthermore, the change in attitude may also have filtered through to Cafcass to some extent.

I am grateful to a senior communications manager from Cafcass in London who has emailed my chambers, when alerted to the question of whether children should be looked after parents on alternate weeks. She stated that the official Cafcass position on this type of arrangement is: “Our recommendations to the court regarding contact and living arrangements for children are based on the needs and circumstances of each individual child.” It is surely axiomatic in child law that each case must depend on its own circumstances, so that “pigeon holing” children and their families is to be avoided, except in so far as it can provide useful guidance for making arrangements for children pursuant to the welfare checklist.

It has certainly been noted by others than just me that the alternate week proposal has found favour more with lay benches than judges. It has also been noted that this is indeed a characteristic more in South Yorkshire than the other ridings (if you are even still allowed to say “Riding”- in fact there were only ever three ridings if I remember rightly and South was not one of them). Anyway, there is anecdotal evidence from the south of the county that Cafcass, as well as magistrates, have been found to favour an “alternate week” arrangement on occasion. I was, however, recently involved in a case in Leeds where the concept was frowned upon and I have also been told of some judicial disapproval of the idea in Wakefield.

On the other hand, I have been made aware of someone in the legal profession (not a family lawyer) who has found a “5 days on/5days off” arrangement to have successfully met the needs of a child since the age of 4. This system presumably requires a substantial level of co-operation and co-ordination, as the child will have been spending varying amounts of weeks and weekends with each side of its family.

As it has apparently worked to the child’s benefit, the adults involved are surely to be congratulated. It is thought that this plan did not perhaps arise so much out of court proceedings, as the child’s parents naturally grasping the significance of joint parental responsibility in preference to the pursuit of parental conflict.

Thus it would appear that my suspicion that this concept is not so exceptional as perhaps it used to be may be correct. Furthermore, it seems right to believe that it is more prevalent in the south of the county (and beyond). My research continues, now aimed further north, if possible. Views and anecdotal evidence will continue to be welcome from all directions, but especially Teesside, Tyneside and the East Riding (which I know still exists as I have seen it signposted on the M62).

Christopher Ferguson has specialised in family law for several years. His extensive experience in private and public children’s law includes representing parents, extended family members, local authorities and children via guardians, including the Official Solicitor and the National Youth Advocacy Service.

Contact Christopher’s clerks

Claudine Cooper on 0113 202 8604

Paul Foster  on 0113 213 5209

This article is available to download.