A questioner asks me whether I have experience of fathers getting anything like 50/50of parenting time. The short answer is yes, but this, of course, does not do justice to the question.
Over 15 years in practice, I must have seen just about every permutation of time division between separated parents from zero to 90% and whether the resident carer is mother or father. There is a hugely variable range of reactions from Judges. The younger the child, the more likely it is that contact to father is going to be restricted in time. But there are Judges who will look at what the arrangements were pre-separation and who decline to make any differential between children of 6 months and children of over 5. There is no hard and fast rule and no research which assists or is regularly referred to in court.
To give some specific examples from my recent cases:
In a case involving a child of nearly 5 and a history of regular involvement by father though essentially primary care by father, the Judge said that father could not have staying contact at weekends in part because he had consented to an earlier order for visiting contact only.
In another case, where a father had pretty much hijacked the mother into shared care, the Judge would not interfere on an interim basis with a 3 day on and 3 day off arrangement for a child of 7.5 even though many other Judges have indicated that this would not be seen by them as viable.
In a case involving a group of children from 8 to 12 a mother & father had agreed, with a little judicial direction, that the contact should be Mondays & Tuesdays to mother, Wednesdays & Thursdays to father and alternate weekends Friday to Monday to each parent with a more flexible arrangement in the school holidays. This was working well but involved a great deal of cooperation from both parents and a geographical proximity with home and school.
Midweek contact as an isolated occurrence eg every Wednesday for older children is often frowned on. Judges tend to prefer that children have the same home base on school nights, unless the parents can agree otherwise.
If a serious allegation of say, possible sexual abuse is made, this can lead to the temporary suspension of contact (including with the resident parent) for 1 month, 6 months, 1 year depending on how long it is before the court can spend enough time on the case to reach a view on the likely outcome of a contested hearing or to deal with a contested hearing. In other words there are some cases where it can quickly become apparent that these allegations have little substance, and some which take a longer forensic enquiry and some which fall into the first category but the court does not have enough time at an early hearing to take a robust view.
If the parents manage some sort of pretty much split arrangement for a period of time, I have known a Judge to contemplate an arrangement which involved a pre-school child attending two nursery schools in order to spend equal time with each parent.
I have had two cases recently where the difference between what the parents wanted was 6 nights a month. It may scarcely seem to matter to an objective view. But all of them had their reasons for advocating the slightly larger number of nights with them / smaller number with the other one and a common suspicion on both sides that the objective was control of both the child and access to finances (more benefits and greater access to public housing may follow if each parent has equal time).
It seems to me that there is a fairly simple rule of thumb adopted by many courts in relation at least to children over 5 and that is that the starting point should be 50% of the so-called quality time, maybe with a bit extra. For example, alternate long weekends from Friday to Monday during term-time with an extra visit or overnight in the non-weekend contac week and half the holidays including half-terms. Whether this has a sound research basis I do not know.
What I would encourage separated parents to consider is this:
Contact should not be approached on a mathematical basis. What is important is what works for the child and all members of the family. There is no point insisting on or against a 50 /50 split for the sake of it. If you are, for example, a working father, who cannot get home before 7.30 pm then perhaps think about abandoning your view of strict entitlement to those weeknights when you cannot get home and would have to use alternative carers yourself. If you are a working mother then do not insist on the child remaining in your care for the sake of some illusory stability or routine, when again, what it means is that you will have to call on an au pair. Both of you should, however, acknowledge, that the involvement of grandparents after hours while you are at work enables the children to spend time with their grandparents, if there is nothing about this which puts the children at risk.
Like the big yellow taxi , parents often don’t appreciate what they lose in terms of casual opportunities for contact until it’s gone. Maybe focus on indirect contact ie telephone and email to replace as best it can the popping into the children’s bedroom at the end of a busy day or the casual conversation over a sandwich about what happened at school. Children remember not so much what you did with them as how you made them feel.