Schedules for Child Residence and Contact in the UK

A child residence and contact schedule details when your child will be with each parent. It's part of your parenting plan if you can agree with the other parent, and it's part of your Child Arrangements Order if you can't agree.

Often, the child lives primarily with one parent (the resident parent) and sees the other (the nonresident parent) at agreed times. However, in a shared parenting setup, the child has a home with each parent, so the terms resident and nonresident do not apply.

Contact with a nonresident parent can be for hours or days at a time — or even for weeks during periods such as summer holiday. Short contact periods can be supervised, if necessary.

Note that the nonresident parent usually pays child maintenance, and payments are often higher for nonresident parents who spend little time with their child. However, parents can agree otherwise.

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The process of getting a schedule

Parents might agree on a schedule on their own, in negotiations with solicitors or through an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method. No matter the approach you use, bring proposals. Many parents use Custody X Change to create schedules quickly.

Once parents agree on a schedule and the rest of their parenting plan, they can opt to make it all legally binding by submitting the information to court as a Consent Order or Minute of Agreement. Usually, neither parent has to appear in court.

You do this on your own in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, you must have a solicitor do it for you. Reduce your solicitor's fees by handing them a plan and schedule that are ready for court.

If parents can't agree on a schedule, they'll need to go to court so a judge can determine one in a Child Arrangements Order (called a Residence Order or Contact Order in Scotland and Northern Ireland).

The process to get an order in England and Wales differs from Scotland's process and Northern Ireland's process.

Creating a good schedule

There are many factors to consider when creating a schedule.

You should:

  • Maximise continuity for your child.
  • Make the plan unique to your situation.
  • Be as comprehensive as possible.
  • Let your child have a say.
  • Listen to and collaborate with the other parent.
  • Consider your child's age, and account for the future.
  • Give the child frequent contact with both parents and other family members.

Note that you cannot deny your child the opportunity to engage with family members just because you don't get on with those people.

Lay out your schedule in clear, specific wording that applies to any year. You can add a visual custody calendar to help parents, solicitors, mediators and judges make sense of a schedule at a glance.

Don't be afraid to revise the schedule when both parents agree to — e.g., after a move or a job change.

What to include

Your schedule should include:

It might also show:

In addition, your parenting plan should address related issues, such as:

  • Exchanging the child, including transportation details
  • Requirements for cancelling contact and giving notice
  • Extracurricular and religious activities
  • Who can have contact with the child
  • Travelling with the child
  • Special circumstances and emergencies

Typical child contact arrangements

There's an abundance of ways to split your schedule. Here are just a few options that might work for your family. Whatever you choose, customise it to meet your needs.

Shared parenting schedules

Shared parenting is increasingly common in the U.K. It gives each parent at least 40 percent of their child's time.

One shared-parenting option, the 2-2-5-5 schedule, has your child spend two days with each parent, followed by five days with each parent. This creates a 50/50 division of parenting time. It's popular because it offers variety and consistency.

The alternating weeks schedule, another 50/50 option, has your child spend one week with each parent. Infrequent exchanges make this a good schedule for parents who don't want to communicate regularly or who don't live near each other. However, seven days apart from a parent might be too much for young children.

One example of a 60/40 arrangement is the 4-3 schedule, where the child spends four days of the week with one parent and three with the other. Many families like this schedule because it's so easy to remember. If you prefer equal parenting time, you can always even up the division using school and bank holidays.

70/30, 80/20 and 90/10 schedules

Often, equal schedules are not viable, and one parent gets residence whilst the other gets contact with the child.

The 5-2 schedule, which gives you a 70/30 parenting time split, has the child spend five days with the resident parent and two with the nonresident parent. If you decide to have the two-day visit on the weekend, this becomes an every weekend schedule.

An example of an 80/20 schedule is the alternating weekends schedule, which has the child visit the nonresident parent every other weekend.

The most popular 90/10 schedule gives the nonresident parent daytime visits only. This arrangement may work well as a baby custody schedule. It can also be helpful when the nonresident parent works nights or must have their contact with the child supervised.

Long-distance schedules

When parents live far away from each other, they should try to make a long-distance schedule work. If a regular pattern isn't possible, they can agree on contact as they go — as far in advance as possible. Early planning allows you to manage your child's expectations and book affordable travel.

Direct contact with a long-distance parent may be less frequent but longer.

Indirect contact like video calling, voice calling and instant messaging can also form an integral part of a contact schedule. Include details in your parenting plan, like:

  • Frequency and length of contact
  • Acceptable methods of communication
  • Whether the resident parent will supervise

The easiest way to make a schedule

If you're like most parents, creating a residence and contact schedule will feel daunting. How do you write something that doesn't leave any loose ends?

The Custody X Change app makes it easy. Either customise a schedule template, or click and drag in your custody calendar to make a schedule from scratch.

Then watch a full description appear in your parenting plan. This legal wording is essential if you want the court to formalise your schedule. It also helps squash conflict and confusion.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

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Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

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