Shared Parenting - information on proposed changes to the law - after separation
If you are currently separating from your partner you may have heard about government plans to make changes to the current law by introducing what’s called <strong>‘a presumption of ‘shared parenting’</strong>. What is intended by this shared parenting bill review, as some are referring to it, may not be clear to you. Some parents are confused about how it could affect them and their children if they go through the courts. To help clear up the confusion, this month on theparentconnection.co.uk we explain some of the background behind the shared parenting laws and the public consultation from the government on whether to change the law to include this ‘presumption’.
When the Coalition government came to power, the Conservatives said they would conduct a review of family law and part of this would be to encourage shared parenting after parting. The result of this review was the publication of a substantial report called the Family Justice Review which was published last November.
The review looked in detail at "shared parenting" both what happens here in the UK and at lessons that could be learnt from abroad too. One key question being, should the current law be changed to include this sometimes confusing phrase ‘a presumption of shared parenting’?
What does ‘a presumption of shared parenting’ really mean?
Any changes only affect parents who involve the courts – currently this is a small percentage of the total number of couples who separate ….around 10%
"Shared parenting" in legal terms usually means there will be a ‘presumption’ that when parents separate children should spend an equal or nearly equal amount of time with both parents … a 50-50 split. This seems straightforward enough; of course a child needs an on-going relationship with both parents and time is clearly a factor in maintaining close bonds. But where this area of the law has become difficult is because some parents hold the idea of this only being possible if the child spends a 50-50 amount of time with each parent.
But research and learning from countries such as Australia where the law was changed have shown that introducing a presumption of “shared parenting” into law could cause more problems than it solves. It shifts the focus of the court’s decision-making away from what is in the best interests of a child, to focussing more on what parents want: who the child lives with and rigid contact arrangements. The result is that parents who already find it hard to sort their issues out often end up in long drawn out battles about their <strong>‘right’</strong> to 50% rather than thinking about the quality of time and what’s best for their child. In many cases, a 50:50 share of a child’s time puts unnecessary and significant stress on them.
A further problem with a presumption of shared time is that it fails to recognise that all families are different and organise support after separation in their own ways. It doesn’t look at ways in which extended family members, particularly grandparents, play an active and really valuable role in a child’s upbringing.
While it may be the case that for some children, shared parenting arrangements will be in their best interests, this will not always be the case. Decisions relating to a child’s living arrangements should be made on a case by case basis, looking at what is best for this child rather than a one size fits all.
In Australia the introduction of shared parenting resulted in increased litigation so parents and children were being subjected to longer drawn out battles in court which are clearly damaging to adults and children alike. Something the UK government are keen to avoid. There was more focus on fathers’ rights over children’s best interests. Indeed it was so problematic that additional legislation had to be introduced to deal with child protection and safety issues.
UK researchers and legal experts all agree that children will benefit from a meaningful relationship with both parents after separation where this is safe. But that changing the law is not the way to achieve this.
For more advice on shared parenting keep an eye on our monthly Live Chat sessions as they are regularly hosted by lawyers who can answer queries relating to such issues.