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What is Shared Parenting?
A definition by Families Need Fathers
There is much discussion of how to describe the continued involvement of both parents in the lives of their children following separation or divorce. ‘Shared parenting’, 'equal parenting’, ‘involved parenting’, 'co-operative parenting’, ‘parallel parenting’ and others are used.
The term preferred by FNF is shared parenting.
Unlike some of the others, it makes explicit that both parents must share this role. Co-operation should be earnestly sought, and equality is a desirable long-term objective, but ‘shared parenting’ captures these features and more.
What do we mean by ‘shared parenting’?
First, shared parenting goes wider than the time each parent spends with their child(ren). It must involve the child spending a significant proportion of their time with each parent. But it does not imply a stated or fixed proportion of parenting time being allocated to a parent, much less that the child’s time must be divided equally between the two parents in every case.
There must, be a proportion of parenting time that is so low that parenting can scarcely be said to be 'shared'. One could argue about the level this is applied. What seems to be the 'standard ration' that children are offered - a fortnightly visit to their non-resident parent, plus some time around holidays - cannot be said to be shared parenting. Nor can parents with so little parenting time be effectively involved in any decisions that need to be taken.
Our definition revolves around the objectives to be achieved.
These are as follows:
1) That the children feel that they have two properly involved parents.
2) That one parent is not able to dominate the lives of the children at the expense of the other or to control the other parent via the children.
3) That the parents have broadly equal 'moral authority' in the eyes of the children and that the children have free access to both their parents if there are issues affecting them.
4) That the children are able to share the lives of both their parents 'in the round' - for example not spending all 'routine time' with one parent and only 'leisure time' with the other.
5) That the parents are in a position of legal and moral equality, and are considered in this light by the children as well as friends, neighbours, teachers etc and public authorities, over routine as well as major matters.
6) That there is no part of the children's lives - for example their school life or their friends - that one parent is excluded from by virtue of the allocation of parenting time or the law on separation/divorce and children.
7) that the children are not by virtue of the allocation of parenting time, excluded from any part of the parent's life.
8) That the children spend enough time with both parents to be able to negate any attempts at ‘parental alienation' with their own direct experience of the ‘victimised’ parent.
9) That the children do not develop stereotyped ideas from their parents about the roles of the sexes, for example that a father’s role is chiefly financial and a ‘giver of treats’, and that mothers have responsibility for everything else.
How to apply these criteria to particular families will be a matter of discussion and negotiations, taking into account the individual needs and wishes of the children and parents and the circumstances in question. As always, the needs of the child will be paramount.
Suggestions on how to proceed in the necessary direction
1) That week-end contact begins with picking up the child(ren) from school/nursery on Friday and continues to delivering them on Monday. This will increase equality of parenting time, allow sufficient time for real shared activities and bonding, allow contact between the parent currently known as the Non Resident Parent (the NRP, a misleading term in itself) and the school and other parents and their children (which are likely to be their own children's friends). In the event of concerns about the parents meeting each other, it will reduce the need for this.
2) That there be mid-week contact, normally picking up the child from school/nursery, and if practical the child staying overnight. This will increase the range of activities that the children share with both parents. It is important, for example, that both parents are involved in homework.
3) That both parents share, preferably equally, attending to the children in any craft or leisure activities - for example children's parties – in which they are involved.
4) That 'half the holidays' be interpreted as half the time school children are not at school rather than half the time the adults have as holidays. It should include half school training days, half of other holidays and festival days - if the parents cannot both be involved. The lives of babies and children too young to go to school are less constrained. Shared parenting will often mean a more equal allocation of parenting time than is possible for older children, which can benefit both parents e.g. by allowing them to do paid work more easily, as well as the child.
5) That special days - for example Christmas or other festival holidays, the children's and their siblings' birthdays - be equally shared if the parents cannot be together for them. That the children also be allowed to be with the relevant parent for days that are special for that parent - for example their birthdays and those of their grandparents, or for other festivals and important events. Examples are offices ‘take your child to work days’ [are there any works left?], sports fixtures (for both the children and the parents), Mothers’ Day with their mothers and Fathers’ Day with their fathers.
6) That the children are not put into daycare, after school clubs, babysat or other alternatives to parental care, if one of their parents is available to look after them.
7) If the residential parent, to use the current term, has demands that restricts their availability for parenting, they should not be allowed to claim priority in the time they have available.
8) Time for the children to see their grandparents and wider family - on both sides of the family - must be adequate.
If you are a member of FNF please read our Factsheet on Shared Residence.
If you are not a member you can buy the factsheet here. <!--[endif]-->
What is a Shared Residence order?
A Shared Residence Order (a residence order made in favour of two or more persons) is therefore not necessarily an order requiring equal sharing, of the child spending equal amounts of time with each parent.
The wording of s11(4) of the Act was lifted directly from the Law Commission’s 1998 Report, Law Com No. 172, which recommended to Parliament that Residence Orders “should be flexible enough to accommodate a much wider range of situations. In some cases, the child may live with both parents even though they do not share the same household. It was never our intention that children should share their time more or less equally between their parents. Such arrangements will rarely be practicable, let alone for the child’s benefit. However, the evidence from the United States is that where they are practicable they can work well and we see no reason why they should be actively be discouraged.”
Is it likely I will be awarded a shared residence order?
Historically, shared residence orders, even those where the child was not to spend more or less equal time with each parent, an arrangement the Law Commissioners were happier about, were actively discouraged from the outset. The discouragement initially emanated from the guidance notes published by the Department of Health (The Department formerly in charge of such matters), without reference to Parliament. The good intentions of Parliament were subverted. In those guidelines it was stated: “It is not expected that it (a shared residence order) will become a common form of order.”
Just over a year after the Children Act 1989 came into force, in a Court of Appeal judgement, Re H (A Minor)(Shared Residence), involving a London Branch FNF Committee member, Purchas LJ, unwisely applying case law from pre-Children Act 1989 days, declared that shared residence orders “would rarely be made and would depend on exceptional circumstances.”
The door had remained firmly closed for nearly eight years, until Dame Butler-Sloss, the then President of the Family Division, along with Lady Justice Hale revisited the matter of shared residence and upheld a decision made in Watford County Court to make a shared residence order in D v D. In her judgement Dame Butler-Sloss clearly articulated that she believed that the judge in Watford County Court had potentially been inhibited from making the shared residence order he thought appropriate because he felt he had to take heed of her comments made some eight years earlier in what remained the leading authority (A v A).
In her judgement she explained, using some of the Law Commission’s words from 1988, that the Court of Appeal should not impose restrictions upon the wording of the statute not actually found within the words of the section, and that flexibility was important as regards s 8 orders (the section in which residence orders are defined). She stated that she was no longer certain that a ‘positive benefit’ to the child had to be demonstrated for the shared residence order to be made – something she had been certain of previously.
However, she stated that it had to be demonstrated that a shared residence order was “in the interest of a child”.
The story is very different now, with many of our member’s children enjoying the benefits of shared residence. Most judges recognise the importance of shared parenting and are far more likely to award shared residence orders than before. Anthony Douglas CBE, who is the Chief Executive of Cafcass states in McKenzie issue 81 “…our starting point in cases where no overwhelming harm is a concern, trying to improve the degree of sharing between parents…So we’re promoting an increase in shared parenting and co-parenting all the time in the agreements we reach. And we’re pretty successful- we get about 65% safe agreements. So most of our work does end up with agreement, and an increasing number of which have a degree in shared parenting”.
Case studies and links
Examples of shared responsibility were made by Wall J in the case A v A  1 FLR 1195 .
Examples of shared care Parenting Plans are hereRe H (A Minor)(Shared Residence)  1 FLR 717 - Decided Dec1992
A v A (A Minor) (Shared Residence Order)  1 FLR 669
Re H (Shared Residence: Parental Responsibility)  2 FLR 883
D v D (Shared Residence Order)  1FLR 495