This project was to prepare a briefing paper on shared parenting. The term ‘shared parenting’ has no legal status but generally refers to a child spending an equal amount of time with each parent in the event of separation or divorce.
Two Private Members’ Bills were introduced to Parliament in 2010/11. Although different in content, they both seek to introduce and enforce a default position that children should spend a substantial amount of time with both parents in the event of separation.
Academics from the University of Oxford and Australia have analysed the proposed legislation in light of research evidence on shared parenting, with particular reference to Australia, which introduced similar legislation in 2006. They concluded:
- Introducing a default presumption that children should spend a substantial amount of time with both parents would overturn the provision in the Children Act 1989 that the welfare of the child should be paramount in deciding contact issues.
- There is no empirical evidence that increasing the amount of time spent with a non-resident parent improves outcomes for children. It is the quality of the relationship between parents and between parents and children, as well as practical resources such as housing and income that are important for children’s well-being, not equal or near equal parenting time.
- Shared parenting works best when separated parents are co-operative and flexible. However cases that end up in court are often characterised by conflict between parents and concerns about child welfare. Therefore the cases subject to shared parenting legislation will be those in which shared parenting is least likely to be successful.
- Evidence from Australia, which has introduced similar changes, shows frequent misunderstanding of the legislation; an increased focus on father’s rights over children’s best interests; and an increased reluctance from mothers to disclose violence and abuse. Indeed it has been so problematic that additional legislation has been presented to the Australian Parliament to deal with the safety issues.
- The legislation would primarily affect the small minority of separating parents (10%) who seek a decision on contact from the family court. However, there could be consequences for all children of separating parents, as parents often reach agreements in the ‘shadow of the law’, as advised by solicitors.
Cerdiwen Roberts, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford and a member of OXFLAP.
Mavis Maclean, Joint Director of the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy (OXFLAP).
Bruce Smyth, Associate Professor at the Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute, Australian National University, Canberra.
Belinda Fehlberg, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne.
Grant amount and duration
December 2010 - May 2011
- Partnership dissolution and formation
- Lone parents' mental health and employment
- RCT of parent-based models of speech and language therapy
- Impact of dialogic book-sharing on child cognitive and socio-emotional development
- A systematic review of the impact of parent-child reading
- The importance of parental beliefs in parental investment decisions
- Towards a family justice observatory