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What does normal look like?

This is a question we are often asked by separating parents deciding how to agree the arrangements for their children. Parents often ask what other families do and what is considered usual or normal when deciding how many nights per week their children should spend with each of them, or how they should divide school holidays.


The advice that we often give is that there is no normal. Each family, and each child, is unique and therefore the arrangements that will be in their best interests will also be unique. What works for one child may not work for another; this can be because of practicalities, an emotional need or many other factors.


Lord Justice MacFarlane is due to take over from Sir James Mumby as president of the family division next month, making him the most senior judge dealing with family cases. He has stated that he will be touring the country and speaking to every full-time family law judge, as well as local magistrates and CAFCASS officers. He intends to canvass views on ways judges can help families achieve a “reasonable and child-focused solution” to disputes about the arrangements for children. This may include guidance as to what is considered “normal” in circumstances where there are no child safeguarding issues.


It is not yet clear whether this is an idea that will be taken forward. It has been considered before but not pursued, as it was found to potentially conflict with the court’s duty “to afford paramount consideration to the welfare of each individual child”.


For the present time, parents remain encouraged to consider what will work best for their particular child when separating and to put the child’s needs at the forefront of their minds when discussing the arrangements that will be most suitable for their family. As with everything in family life, there is no “normal”.

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