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I have a friend with a two year old who has joint custody with the mother. That has been the arrangement almost from birth; he and the mother were never in a traditional relationship and never lived together apart from a couple months at the beginning to get certain stuff down like breastfeeding/pumping. They get along and have been managing 50/50% custody reasonably well.

However, he's looking at moving to Africa—not immediately, but at some point. If that happens, co‑parenting will obviously not be as convenient as it is now. But he would have some living flexibility, which might at least in theory make things manageable given that he considers it important to still care for the child 50%.

I read a question elsewhere about doing 6 month intervals due to parents being in different cities, and the consensus was that it wasn't even remotely acceptable; but the main reason cited was having to switch schools mid‑year, every year.

My friend, though, would be able to do a different arrangement in which the child wouldn't need to move schools. Basically, he would take the child to his home in Africa for 3 months during the summer break, then mom would do 3 months, and then in the winter he would come back to the child's home city and have the kid there for another 3 months. (This assumes he can also keep a residence in this city, which seems likely.) So, basically, they would do 3/3/3/3 months, and the child would remain in the one city except during the summer break.

(He could choose any three months to come back, but winter seems to make sense so that mom doesn't go half a year without doing the primary care. Actually, winter isn't the best time for him to leave Africa, but it is what it is.)

The main issues I'd worry about would be:

  • For 9 months of the year, only one parent would be in the same country as the child, which would be stressful for everyone in the case of a serious emergency. (The trip is literally a day and probably can't be booked same‑day.)

  • 3 months could be a long time for a parent and child to be away from each other.

  • Right now the three of them occasionally go places together locally. (They're not typical co‑parents in that there was never any failed relationship, so the dynamic is different.) This would only be able to happen within the 3 month window during which he's back in the home city, and that would probably be during winter, which is cold here.

  • The child wouldn't be around school/neighbourhood friends during the summer. (On the other hand, getting to vacation in a faraway place could be an enriching experience.)

  • The child would have three residences to adjust between: the mother's, the one in Africa, and the father's local place. Also, it's not entirely clear if the father's local place would be the same from one year to the next, and even if it is, it's possible someone else might live in it while he's away.

  • Could be harder for both parents to stay "on the same page" since they'd have no in‑person contact for 9 months at a time. (Perhaps technology could help to a degree.)

The main questions are:

  • Is this liable to do significant harm to the child?

  • Are there any other big hiccups in particular to pay attention to?

  • What aged children could typically handle this alright? He may be able to put it off for some time, but there are of course trade‑offs involved the longer he waits.

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    One other concern I'd have is legal custody frameworks. There have been cases where a co-parent has moved to another country where the custody rules are more friendly to them and then refused to let the child come back. So it depends on how much the mother trusts the father on this. Commented May 2, 2023 at 9:41

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The only info I found was related to children in foster care, where they were moving homes and changing parents, and while it doesn't exactly fit the situation, I think it brings to light some issues that come from moving children between homes.

In foster care it's understood that each move for a preschool or elementary child will cause the child to lose 6 months of learning.

In this situation the parents in each home are known, but the child would still be moving 4 times a year!

It seems that making a child move 4 times a year could be a real risk to the child's ability to lean and retain what they've learned.

One reason children in foster care experience so much stress comes from each home having its own rules and expectations and routines.

Again, moving a child 4 times a year means 4 adjustment periods for that child. Additionally, when changing countries, the change is not just from one neighborhood to another in one city, it's a major culture change, and that would happen twice a year, when going to Africa and when returning.

When children in foster care leave a home where they've bonded with the foster parents, if there's no contact then the children experience a loss that's much like the death of the foster parents.

While these parents would, I'm sure, stay in contact, one parent will be physically abscent for months at a time, and that's a huge adjustment for a small child to make, and with the schedule you posted that would happen for the child at last two times a year.

It seems that there could be some real concern for the wellbeing of the child. Since it's been more than two years since you posted your question, the 2yo is now 4-5yo, and hopefully it has all worked out.

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