How Does Shift Work and Irregular Scheduling Impact Custody and Access Arrangements?

As many frontline workers will tell you, the hours they work are anything but regular nor seldom reliable. From firefighters to nurses, last-minute calls to cover a shift or sudden emergencies frequently make it difficult to spend much time at home. For separated and divorced families, this makes traditional parenting schedules an impossible situation.

How do truck drivers and pilots find the time to spend with their children while still balancing work obligations? This question highlights the logistical challenges faced by separated parents and the complicated nature of work/life balance.

Can I Have a 50/50 Parenting Schedule if I Don’t Have Regular Work Hours?

When a court makes a parenting order, the paramount consideration is to develop a schedule that is in the child’s best interest.  The court will typically strive to create a plan that allows the children to have regularly occurring, meaningful periods of contact with each parent.

There are numerous factors that a court must consider when creating a parenting schedule, which could fall under several categories, including:

  • Age and needs of the child
  • The child’s relationship with each parent and other influential persons in their life
  • Previous care history
  • Willingness to support the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • The child’s views and preferences
  • History of family violence

Each child is different, and each family is different.  A parenting arrangement that might be in one child’s best interest might not be in the best interest of another.  The type of schedule that is ordered depends on many factors.

Does an Erratic Work Schedule Prevent Me from Co-Parenting?

While there are numerous approaches to creating a parenting schedule that will accommodate an inconsistent or unpredictable work schedule, it is essential to have a lawyer on hand that is familiar with the complexities of these types of arrangements. Parents who have frontline positions or emergency service duties will not be able to use a typical parenting schedule.

Below are some tips for accommodating your job in a way that is not overly disruptive to your child.

Use a Flexible Schedule

If you and your ex-partner have strong communication skills, a flexible schedule might be a solution. This approach allows both parents to change parenting time based on their work schedule as often as necessary.  When communicating, always treat the other parent with respect, be polite, clear, and child-centered.  A flexible schedule is not appropriate for high-conflict cases.

Agree to Parenting Time, but Not Specific Dates

Parents who do not practice effective communication may opt for a court-ordered parenting schedule to minimize conflict. Instead of designating every detail, they can agree to a specified number of overnights or time per month the child will spend with each parent.  The agreement or order can specify how parenting time is decided upon each month.  For example, once a work schedule is disclosed, parents can alternate picking dates each month with one parent having the first choice in even months and the other parent having the first choice in odd months.

Multiple Schedules to Match Work Flow

Families, where a parent must work seasonally or has extended time off between projects, like in construction or mining industries, can maximize parenting time for both parties involved by creating multiple schedules. Two parenting plans can be implemented where one is in effect while working, and the other while off duty, brings a sense of consistency to the situation.

Traditional Parenting Schedule

Traditional parenting schedules would not make adjustments to the time a parent is to see their child. In these situations, a parent may have to arrange for a babysitter when a work schedule conflicts with their time.  This may raise other issues relating to the apportioning of childcare fees in these situations.

Is My Shift Work too Disruptive for a Parenting Schedule?

Children thrive on routine and schedules should be predictable and consistent for children. However, that does not mean a parenting schedule cannot be alternated to work with a challenging work schedule, provide it is in the children’s best interest. While it is unlikely that the court would place the child with someone who works during the night if they have no one to care for their children during that time, some strategies can be employed to maximize your time with your children. The courts recognize the value of parenting time with children and can create a plan that will take into account a parent’s work schedule.

Does My Partner Automatically Get Custody if I Work Too Many Hours?

Your child’s best interest, not your line of work, determines custody. The court may indeed consider your work schedule, but it is only one of many factors that are part of a custody decision. Custody is not about where your child lives or how much time your child spends with you; it is about who has the legal right to make major decisions relating to the care and upbringing of your child.  Merely because your work schedule does not afford you the opportunity to take your child to yearly checkups does not mean you get denied the right to weigh in on medical decisions.

Speak with an Experienced Family Law Lawyer First

Preparing ahead of time for a complex parenting agreement because of your unpredictable work schedule requires the assistance of a knowledgeable family lawyer. Their guidance will help you determine options the court may find favorable to your case.

Benefits of Mediation

The bottom line to creating a parenting schedule that is best for your child while accommodating hectic work hours is cooperation. An accredited mediator can assist parents in finding a solution that will allow them to maximize their time with the child in ways that take into account both parents’ work schedules, as well as the child’s needs.

Darlene Rites

Darlene Rites