There are many ways to describe what is commonly known as shared parenting but essentially it is an agreement between the parents that they will exercise their parental responsibility over their child equally.
It is widely accepted that shared parenting should be the norm unless there is a good reason why not.
So, ideally, then both parents will have an equal input in the child’s life. One way that this can be reflected is in the actual behaviour of the parents. Are they able to have a civil discussion about the child? Do they both participate in the school run and in attending school events? Are the children able to visit the non-resident parent as often as they wish? Do the children have significant contact with the extended family members of the non-resident parent?
If you can answer yes to all these questions and more like them then you have probably achieved shared parenting – and well done!
If these questions are a long way off from what your child experiences then you should think about how you could enhance your roles as parents.
Shared Parenting should come naturally to you as parents and, in my view, is far more favourable then what we, as Solicitors, often see – being parents arguing in court and then coming out with an Order that is neither flexible nor agreed.
The reality is that even parents who live together do not spend equal time with their child so it will be totally unrealistic to expect this once a relationship has broken down. However, in such instances parents may want to satisfy themselves that they both have equal quality contact with their child and one parent should not try to appear more important than the other.
A formal way to reflect a shared parenting agreement is to apply to the court for a Shared Residence Order. Now, under the law, the court should not make an Order for a child unless it is absolutely necessary. This reflects the presumption of what is known as “the No Order principle”. So unless you’ve had problems in the past or seriously envisage problems in the future the court may not grant a Shared Residence Order, or any Order at all.
A Shared Residence Order doesn’t mean that the children will spend equal time with both parents. I would say that this is not in the best interest of the children – moving backwards and forwards between houses. However, a Shared Residence Order often serves to remind both parents that they essentially have equal rights and responsibilities over their children.
The concept of Shared Parenting should be the norm for the relationship that children have with their parents after separation. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case and many parents and children become separated due to the actions of the parent that the child lives with (the resident parent). Often the resident parent makes claims of domestic violence or child abuse as a way of stopping the contact between the child and the other parent. Sometimes, the only option the parent has is to refer the matter to court. However, the courts’ hands are often tied during the process of investigating the allegations made and no contact takes place in the meantime.
So what can you do to minimise the effect of this during court proceedings?
- Firstly, make sure to control your emotions. Minimise the amount of contact and conversation that you have with the resident parent. Otherwise, you put yourself in a vulnerable position against further allegations and even the possibility of Non-Molestation (Injunction) proceedings.
- You will need to avoid delay and keep the case moving. Think about instructing a Solicitor or other professional representative who can act as a buffer between having direct contact and give you specialist advice.
- Gather any evidence (or lack of it) that can be used against you. So use your rights under Data Protection laws to obtain any information held about you by, for example, by the police or the Local Authority Children’s Services. If no such information is held, you’ll want that in writing also.
- Gather written evidence of any activities you have been engaged in with your children, for example a letter from the school that you attend school events, from out of school clubs, from a leader in your church (if you go) etc. You may need to use these documents throughout the proceedings at short notice – so it’s just as well to get everything together beforehand.
Remember, that delay is the enemy in children disputes. The more time that passes since seeing your children, the more difficult it becomes to re-instate contact with them. So, once you are clear that your case cannot be resolved amicably, the quicker you put it together and get it before the court the better.