What is “shared care”?

When representing parents in disputes over children, family lawyers are often told by their clients that they wish to obtain a ‘shared care arrangement’ for their children – in our experience, an often misunderstood term.

The concept of ‘shared care’ has different meanings to different people. Some parents deem shared care to be an arrangement whereby the child spends an equal amount of time with both parents. Others believe shared care means their child will live with them 50 percent of the time and live with the other parent for the remaining 50 percent. And there are those parents who may say that shared care is the right to have an equal say when it comes to making decisions about the children, although this is covered by parental responsibility.

These beliefs may be the result of there being no true legal definition of ‘shared care’ as universally understood by family judges, although what is understood is that the law recognises it is in the best interests of the child to have both parents involved in their upbringing (unless in very exceptional circumstances, such as where one parent may pose a real and genuine risk to the child). Generally speaking, the court will make orders which, although they may not be labelled ‘shared care’, ensure that the child spends enough time with both parents so that they have as full a relationship as possible with them both.

If you are affected by any of the issues outlined here, please do get in touch today. We are here to help.

“When representing parents in disputes over children, family lawyers are often told by their clients that they wish to obtain a ‘shared care arrangement’ for their children – in our experience, an often misunderstood term.”

Rebecca O’Rourke

Things to consider when deciding on child arrangements after separation

It is important that parents make realistic arrangements for their children after they separate, and recognise that it is beneficial for all concerned for these arrangements to be managed in a civil and flexible way. This is why it’s often best parents come to an agreement between themselves, rather than asking a judge to decide, although the reality is that some may need advice and guidance to identify and implement an appropriate arrangement.

It’s worth looking at the comment made by an appeal judge in the 2014 case of M(A Child):

It is still the case that 50/50 shared care arrangements between parents are comparatively rare in private law children cases. Research shows that a number of factors have to be in place, practical matters such as the close geographical proximity, but, above all, the couple have to be on reasonable or good terms so that the to and fro of everyday life for a child is accommodated without undue emotional fall out.”

The judge continued: “Both parents have equal status. So a division of time 50/50 will remain, in my view, a rare order and only to be contemplated where there is some confidence that it will not work to the disadvantage of the child, albeit that the aim is to give good quality and substantial time with each parent.”

It is therefore important to consider whether a 50/50 shared care arrangement is something that will be manageable between you and your ex-partner. Consider how this would work, from both practical and emotional perspectives for your child. The Family Court will always look at cases on an individual basis, and the best interests of the children is always at the heart of all decisions made.

Remember that any order made by the Court is legally binding. It therefore may be more advantageous to come to an agreement outside of the Court system, allowing for a degree of flexibility so that both parents can manage child arrangements in such a way as to allow for the unpredictability of real-life commitments.

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