Four models for handling child custody after separation or divorce

When a civil partnership or marriage ends in divorce, the decision must be made about how to take care of any children from the union. Divorced parents, blended families and non-traditional family set-ups are now commonplace in the UK. Handled well, children can feel happy and safe and a valued member of more than one household. However, the potential to cause distress, conflict and misunderstandings can be high if not enough thought has been put into child custody arrangements at an early stage.

Child Custody Issues and Concerns

The wellbeing, happiness and security of the child or children caught up in the divorce or separation must remain paramount in all decisions made. However, emotions can run high and it can be difficult to keep calm and rational at all times. There can be disagreements in how a child is raised in terms of schooling, religion, healthcare and other areas. This is where mediation can really help sort key issues out. Not least of which is where the child will live, with whom and for how many days of the week/month at each location.

As the child gets older, child custody arrangements will start to involve them more and more, as they will be asked for their preferences and opinion. As a starting point, here are four child custody models that can work well in different situations. They can be used at different stages in the child’s life, and in the months and years that follow their parents’ divorce or separation.

Sole Residency Child Custody

As the name might suggest, this model sees the child live mainly, or solely with one parent or caregiver. This is often the mother, although it can also be the father or another relative in other situations. The court will need to decide who is best to provide the care in a sole residency child custody situation. Although the child will have one main place of residence, they will normally have regular access visits with their other parent or family member(s), so long as it is safe and possible to do so. These visits will normally include overnight stays. Advantages to sole residency child custody arrangements include greater stability for young children, since they spend longer at their primary place of residence.

Joint Residency Child Custody

This type of child custody is less common in the UK, but it can work well if all parties are committed to making it a success. The child’s time is split between their parents, or caregivers’ residences. This can be divided in a 50-50, even split or in another way that is mutually acceptable to all parties. Joint residency child custody can work well if one or both parents works away a lot, or travels during the week. It allows both parties to step up more equally with child care and gives the child more time with both parents on a regular basis. However, some logistics are more complicated, such as ensuing school uniform is at the right house on the right day and working out how to physically get children to hobby groups and social events.

‘Bird’s nest parents Child Custody

This is another more modern take on child custody, and one that puts the child’s best interests first. Simply put, the child stays put in the family home and the parents move around according to the arrangements made during the child custody court hearing. One or both parents have a smaller property into which they move while the other parent spends time with their child in the main home. This child custody arrangement can then be altered when the child reaches adulthood, with the main home sold and proceeds split equally between both parties. Bird’s nest child custody arrangements can only work with a high level of co-operation and closer geographical proximity for everyone involved.

Co-parenting Child Custody

Finally, co-parenting is another commonly found example of modern child custody planning. This sees parents raising a child together without necessarily having ever been in a romantic relationship themselves. Alternatively, parents who used to be romantic partners may find themselves moving into friendship as the years go by. They then prefer to take on a more platonic co-parenting arrangement that puts the child first and keeps the family closer together. Again, this requires a higher level of organisation and co-operation. It can be threatened by changes in the status quo. For example, if one or both parents start dating someone else during the arrangement, or go on to have other children. Co-parenting can be very flexible, shifting patterns as the child grows older, or the needs of everyone involved change.

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