Even in families with a stay-at-home mother or father, generally speaking most parents share the care of their children in some way or other. When parents separate they expect to be able to continue shared care of the children but, obviously, whatever arrangements need to be made can be difficult to envisage before the parties actually separate. What does shared care look like? Is it one week with one parent, one week with the other? This might be “fair” in terms of equalising the time spent with both parents but is it right for children to be continually moving from one house to the next? Do they not need a base – but with whom?
According to research carried out by Oxford University only 3% of separated families in the UK are currently in a shared care arrangement. In Australia the concept of “equal shared parental responsibility” except where there is violence or abuse has been enshrined in law since 2006. This means that of cases coming before the Court, 30% are being forced into a shared care arrangement. So those parents whose relationship is not good – because they have had to resort to the Court to decide how to care for their children – are the very parents who are forced into a shared care arrangement and are therefore having to have constant communication with each other.
The best interests of children after parental separation is not dependant upon the amount of time which they spend with each parent but more with the quality of parenting received, the quality of the relationship between their parents, the practical resources available including income and housing – and definitely not to any particular pattern of care or amount of time.
Perhaps in an effort to be fair to parents there is a danger of being unfair to children?
Frequent moves between households can, for children, bring practical and emotional difficulties in terms of the constant packing and planning. But, obviously, the level of difficulty depends on the distance between moves, the frequency of moves, the level of any conflict between the parents and also the child’s personality and preferences. So each case must depend not just on practical arrangements for the child but what their personality and the effect of a shared arrangement would be on them. How is the voice of the child heard? Is it heard at all?
The Courts are currently directed to look at the best needs of the child or children – the welfare of these children should be paramount. Is it actually possible to achieve both “fairness” to act in the best interests of the child?
Rather than arguing through the Courts and becoming more and more polarised, parents should try and work together to ensure that everyone’s needs – theirs and the children’s – are met, and family therapy may be more appropriate than litigation. Parents have a responsibility to ensure the long-term wellbeing of their children.
For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.