Children need your love and support as well as the ability to enjoy a good relationship with both parents. Shared parenting or ‘shared residence’ puts equal emphasis on the roles of both parents. But what does shared parenting mean? Does it mean a 50/50 split in time? And what is shared residence and how does it work? Keep reading for answers to these questions and more.
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Can my child live with both parents?
Yes. A ‘shared residence’ arrangement sees your child living with both parents, either arranged by yourself or through a court order.
Shared parenting doesn’t necessarily mean that your child spends an equal amount of time with each parent (see the section below). However, it demonstrates to your child that you are equals, and that both of you have an important role to play in your child’s life.
What does shared parenting mean in practical terms?
Shared parenting means that your child spends a significant proportion of their time with each parent.
Shared parenting would not cover a situation where you see your child every fortnight and in the school holidays. Instead, your child would have to spend a reasonable amount of time with you, although importantly not necessarily 50% of the time.
In practical terms, shared parenting means that:
- your child has free access to both parents if there are issues affecting them
- your child feels they have two parents that are equally involved
- one parent can’t dominate your child’s life at the expense of the other
- both parents are considered equal by not only your child but also by friends, teachers and authorities
- there is no part of your child’s life that is ‘out of bounds’ to one parent
- the time your child spends with each parent includes the same activities (so one parent doesn’t have ‘leisure time’ while the other has ‘homework’ or ‘routine’ time).
Does shared parenting mean a 50/50 split in time?
No. Shared parenting does not require your child to spend an equal amount of time with each parent. Often, this may be because of your work commitments or other logistical concerns.
Shared care is about your child having quality time with each parent; both routine and leisure time.
Some parents operate a one week on, one week off arrangement. While this ensures your child gets equal time with both parents, it can actually be difficult for some children to not see a parent for an extended period.
At the other end of the spectrum, handovers every couple of days can be confusing for a child. It may also mean that the parents see each other a lot, with the potential for conflict this can bring.
A pattern that can work is:
- Alternate weekends from Friday to Monday with each parent
- Mondays and Tuesdays each week with one parent,
- Wednesdays and Thursdays each week with the other parent
- Holidays equally with each parent.
Advantages of this arrangement are that each parent can make plans for alternate weekends and that your child spends no more than five days away from each parent during term time. There is also regularity in terms of which parent takes your child to after-school activities.
Arranging handovers at school or nursery can help to avoid conflicts between parents. Obviously every child is different, and your child’s behaviour would need to be closely monitored to ensure the regular movement from parent to parent doesn’t cause confusion or angst, or upset their school life.
Do I have to go to court to get shared residence?
No. You can make arrangements for shared care of your child between yourselves. In many cases, drawing up a shared parenting agreement via your solicitors can be less stressful and more aligned with your individual circumstances.
If you can’t agree arrangements with your ex, mediation is one way that you can resolve issues. Indeed, if you want to apply to court for an order you will typically have to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) first.
If you still cannot agree, then you may have to apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order.
What is a Shared Parenting Agreement?
A Shared Parenting Agreement is a plan drawn up by both parents designed to help you focus on your child’s best interests. It demonstrates that you are prepared to put the needs of your child first and will help you to clarify exactly what is expected of each parent.
A Shared Parenting Agreement will focus on areas such as:
- Where your child will live, who they will spend time with (including the other parent, grandparents etc.) and how much time they will spend
- Where they will go to school, and who is responsible for education costs
- Which religion (if any) your child will be brought up in
- Who will be financially responsible for your child’s needs
- Your child’s emotional development – how you can ensure your child receives the love and support they need from both parents.
Shared Parenting Agreements are typically written by the parents themselves, aided by their solicitors.
What is shared residence?
Shared residence occurs when your child lives with both parents (rather than living with one parent and having contact with the other).
While it doesn’t necessarily mean a 50/50 split in time (see the sections above), it ensures you are both treated as equals and that neither parent is in ‘control’ of your child’s development.
Shared residence can be agreed by you and the other parent, or through a court order.
When might the court order shared residence?
Shared residence has become more common in recent years, and the Court of Appeal has provided some guidance on the factors that would generally be considered when looking at shared residence through a Child Arrangements Order. These include:
- your child clearly feels that they have two homes
- you and the other parent live near to one another
- your child is familiar with both homes
- there is an easy handover for the child to transition between the homes
- there is some history of shared care
- your child has a strong attachment to each parent.
Courts have awarded shared residence in other circumstances also, for example where parents live further away from one another.
As with any court decision, the ultimate question to answer is: ‘what is in your child’s best interests?’ Your child’s own wishes and feelings will also be taken into account if they are old enough (typically around age 10 or older).
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
If the court feels an order is in the best interests of your child, then they may make a Child Arrangements Order.
Since 2014, Child Arrangement Orders have been the way that a court shares residence. An order specifies the periods of time that your child will live in each household. It may also include details about when and where handovers take place, how birthdays and Christmas are dealt with, and where your child spends their school holidays.
As mentioned above, a Child Arrangements Order does not mean that your child will live one week with you and the next week with the other parent. It also doesn’t mean that they will spend 3½ days each week with each of you.
The time the court orders will be dependent on what is best for your child, taking into account your work commitments, the location of your homes and your child’s school. The court will look at the quality of time and make an award accordingly.
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