When a Court is considering what care arrangements might be most appropriate for a child, the starting point is always to consider that the best interests of the child are paramount.
Bearing this in mind, the Court will compare the competing care arrangements which have been proposed by separated parents. If the Court considers it appropriate for both parents to share decision-making in regards to a child, such as which school the child will attend or what religion they should be raised in, then the Court must consider whether the child spending equal time with each parent would be in the best interests of the child.
‘Equal time’ is most often seen in practice as a week-on/week-off arrangement, where the child will spend one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent. Although the Court must consider a care arrangement providing for equal time, it is not guaranteed that the Court will make such an order.
In determining whether an equal time arrangement is in the best interests of the child, the Court will ask four questions, namely:
- Is the child living with each parent practical?
- Is the child old enough to emotionally and psychologically cope with having two households?
- Are the parents able to implement an arrangement for equal time?
- Do the parents have good communication, such that they could discuss issues which might come up as a result of the child having two primary households?
In asking whether equal time is a practical arrangement, the Court will consider factors such as how far the parents live from each other, the quality of the parents’ communication with each other and how old the child is.
If the Court determines that an arrangement for equal time is not in the best interests of the child, then the Court must consider an arrangement whereby the non-resident parent has substantial and significant time with the child.