Shared parenting seems to be referred to regularly now in media reports about divorce and separation. In all cases that come before the Courts there will be a desire to do what is best for the child or children involved, which is often shared care of the child. But what does this actually mean?
I often find that people take the term ‘shared parenting’ to mean that the care of the children is shared equally. This is not always the case and is obviously quite difficult with a seven-day week, without any child being completely ‘split down the middle’.
Shared care or shared parenting?
Shared care or shared parenting mean different things to different people and of course every family is different and unique and is treated by the court as such. It is always the case that each family is treated having regard to their own circumstances. Arrangements which suit one family may not necessarily suit another.
Therefore, there may on occasion still be a ‘shared care’ arrangement but the children may spend say five days with one parent and two with the other.
The point behind the term shared parenting is to emphasise to the parents that they share the care of their children.
When I first started working in family law more than 20 years ago it was much more common for the children to be treated as living with one parent and having ‘contact’ with the other and at that time in my experience the amount of contact offered to the parent who did not live with the children was a relatively small amount.
This often led to a situation where one parent felt that this provided them with more ‘rights’ or even entitlement to the children than the other and was often the source of friction and contention. This is the reason for the court now wanting to promote words such as sharing and equality to reaffirm with both parents that both parents are indeed seen as equal in the eyes of the law.
There are no hard and fast rules as to the amount of time a child should spend with each parent and one parent should not feel that they have any less entitlement to spend time with their children than the other.
Making shared parenting work
- Try to remember that you are still both parents of the children and they need you both. “What is best for the children in this situation” might be a useful mantra to repeat to yourself.
- Talk to each other – and to your children. If you are working with a divorce lawyer they’ll be able to help you find specialist support, for example from counsellors, able to help with the impact of the relationship breakdown on your children.
- Keep a calendar which you and your partner can access (maybe keep it online?) where agreed dates for children being places can be kept and also who collects, when, how, where they are going, and how to contact in emergency are all stored.
- Accept there will be problems and misunderstandings but try to keep the “end goal” in sight of having the children grow up with a solid foundation of parents who care about them and who they can see can face and resolve problems in life.
- You might consider a parenting agreement, setting out the arrangements and how you will conduct yourselves, with both parties signing it. This would include as much detail as the parties wish in order to avoid potential disputes in the future. Actually setting out your intention to co-operate and be flexible for the sake of the children in writing, can be a very useful document to refer to if and when issues arise. If nothing else, re-reading it might serve to give both parties a few moments of ‘time out’ to reflect and take some of the heat out of the conflicts that can inevitably arise when co-parenting from different homes.
Having watched the family court landscape from a front row seat for the last 20 years I have to say that I feel that the concept of shared parenting and shared care is a welcome change.
Divorce & family lawyer, Birmingham