ARTICLE: THE MUCH MISUNDERSTOOD CONCEPT OF

In recent months the press have bandied about the term “shared parenting” and the Government’s support of the same with a distinct lack of clarity about what impact this concept will have for families generally. Contrary to public and press perception “shared parenting” by no means equates to shared time; “shared parenting” relates to the quality of time parents spend with their children, not the quantity.

The Government is looking to create a legislative presumption that both parents, before during and after separation, should have an active parenting role in their child’s life. This is an approach that the judiciary have been adopting for many years now when considering contact disputes and so the reality is that this impending change to the Children Act, whilst on the one hand being just and progressive, is on the other hand unlikely in practice to change the outcome of litigious proceedings brought by a parent who is being deprived contact with their child.

The majority of contact disputes that lead to court intervention arise from one parent abusing their position as the “primary carer” in refusing to facilitate contact between the child and the other parent. The Government’s hope (and that of Family Practitioners) is that legislation declaring the importance to a child of ongoing relationships with both parents will mean that when separation occurs, parents are acutely aware that the starting point should be for them both to have an active role in the child’s life on an ongoing basis. Not only should this help to promote the best interests of the child from the outset of separation and thereby prevent children being used as a bargaining tool (as too often happens) but it is also very much hoped that as a result of parents starting with this common premise, they will be able to agree matters between them more easily and avoid the need for court involvement entirely.

Promoting shared parenting can only be a good thing; however, it should not be seen as the panacea many have suggested it is. In all cases the welfare of the child is paramount and will steer the Court’s decision regardless of any parenting presumptions. It is entirely correct that every child should have the right to a meaningful relationship with both of their parents but that will always need to be balanced against what is in their best interests and their safety. When deciding what is best for a child and in particular determining the time the child is to spend with both parents respectively, the Court will look at all the circumstances of the case including matters such as the child’s age, any specific needs they have and the identity of any primary carer. Every case is entirely different and the Court recognises that each child has his or her own particular needs, furthermore that those needs alter over time as the child grows and develops.

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