A High Court Judge’s comments have recently been reported in the media in relation to the eagerly awaited outcome of the Shared Parenting Bill, and they are likely to be met with mixed views from both legal advisors and separated parents.
A particular article refers to Baroness Butler-Sloss being against the new laws and concept of automatic “50/50 Shared Parenting” when relationship breakdown occurs, as she does not believe it will always be in the best interests of the child.
Shared parenting is a concept that is used in Australian family courts and it has in recent years been suggested that the English & Welsh courts should adopt the same approach.
At first hand I can imagine a lot of parents feeling outraged by this, presumably the father if traditionally the mother has been the primary carer and the child has remained with her in the family home after separation. There have been numerous fathers’ groups who have campaigned for shared parenting and this will come as a huge blown to them. However if you look at the comments made by Baroness Butler-Sloss closely, you can understand why such conclusion has been made in relation to the idea of 50/50 shared parenting.
For example she has been quoted as saying, “The problem about the phrase ‘shared parenting’ is the perception that parents have as to what it really means. I’ve heard one father who went into court saying, ‘Once this law is enforced, I will get half of the child’. Well that’s ridiculous. The child has to live in one place, so the duty of the court is to do what is best for the child. I think all parents should be sharing their children but that requires parents to be sensible, to co-operate and to look at what is best for the children. But in about five per cent of cases that come through the courts the parents are unreasonable, or one parent is unreasonable, usually both; and the child suffers.”
Indeed I have heard similar comments being made by Judges and Cafcass officers I have come across at court and saying bluntly that clearly it would be easier for both parties if their child could be cut in half and each parent take a piece each.
Clearly this cannot be done and similarly it is not necessarily easy to divide a child’s time exactly in half. It would not be in the child’s best interest if this concept of 50/50 shared parenting was introduced automatically if one parent does present as a real threat to their child’s welfare if for example they had criminal convictions which involved children or they were drug addicts for example.
However parents should not despair too much as they can still seek the advice from Children Law Solicitors and the courts if necessary, if Contact Arrangements cannot be agreed the court can still make shared residence orders for the benefit of both parents and their children if it is appropriate in the circumstances.
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