Sharing Mum and Dad – issues surrounding Shared Parenting
The Parent Connection team has been following and contributing to the current debate on Shared Parenting over the last year. So we were interested when a recent Dispatches programme called Sharing Mum and Dad (January 8th 2013) was shown. The programme provoked a lively debate on Twitter amongst our followers between mums, dads and legal experts and prompted a 60% increase in visits to theparentconnection.org.uk
The programme saw well-known TV presenter Tim Lovejoy, who is himself divorced with two children, try to unpick both the practicalities of parenting with your ex and the legal complexities around shared parenting.
As a reminder, if controversial Government proposals go ahead a new clause will be inserted into the Children’s Act 1989 which states
“…to presume that a child’s welfare will be furthered by the involvement of each of the child’s parents in his or her life, unless it can be shown that such involvement would not in fact further the child’s welfare.”
The Dispatches programme was an important one in that it brought the current debate that currently is only happening amongst academics, legal experts and professionals to a much wider audience. Though well intentioned, with one in three UK children experiencing family breakdown it posed the crucial question: are we doing enough?
However, it set itself a tough challenge in trying to explore both the concept of shared parenting and also asking if current legislation is working in just thirty minutes. Moreover it only really explained shared parenting as being the ‘alternative’ to one parent (usually mum) being awarded sole responsibility by the courts and this is not what the main debate is about.
At root the problem lies in the use of the phrase ‘shared parenting’. Why? Because many parents going through separation will understandably misinterpret what this means in practice. As countries like Australia have found there is a mistaken belief (not helped by the media) that ‘shared’ means ‘equal time’, ‘my share’. This mistaken belief causes further battles for those parents who by definition of going through the courts are already struggling to resolve their difficulties.
The programme was right to quote one father who went into court saying ‘Once this law is enforced, I will get half of the child’ but didn’t go on to explore this attitude further. Splitting a child’s time 50/50 often places a huge amount of stress on their shoulders as it’s very hard to live in two homes and manage the practicalities of friends, school etc.
Often it is better for a child, especially a very young child to have their main home in one place and it is the duty of the court to do what is in the best interests of the child.
Whilst the quality of the parent child relationship obviously requires regular contact, equal access may not always be practical or in the child’s best interests despite what parents feel. Of course parents should be sharing ‘responsibility’ for their children but that requires ex partners who are often hurt and angry to look beyond their own needs and feelings and to communicate well with each other. Separated parents need to co-operate and establish a new type of relationship with each other focused on what is best for their children rather than themselves.
But whilst this is easy to accept in principle it is harder in practice. In around 5% of the divorce cases which go to court, one or both parents are either not able or not willing to take a reasonable approach. This causes further pain and anger with the end result being that the children parents love so much will actually suffer more.