Shared parenting is when children are brought up with the love and guidance of both parents following a separation. There is much discussion about how to describe the continued involvement of both parents in the lives of their children following separation or divorce. ‘Shared parenting’, 'equal parenting’, ‘involved parenting’, 'co-operative parenting’, ‘parallel parenting’ and other terms are used. Generally the term 'shared parenting' is preferred.
Unlike some of the others, it makes it explicit that both parents must share this role. Co-operation should be earnestly sought, and equality is a desirable long-term objective, but ‘shared parenting’ captures these features and more.
What do we mean by ‘shared parenting’?
Firstly, shared parenting goes wider than the time each parent spends with their children. It must involve the child spending a significant proportion of their time with each parent. But it does not imply a stated or fixed proportion of parenting time being allocated to each parent, much less that the child’s time be divided equally between the two parents in every case.
If children only spend a limited amount of time with their non-resident parent, such as a fortnightly visit with some time around holidays, this is not considered shared parenting. Parents with so little active parenting time can not be effectively involved in any important decisions that need to be taken.
It is important to note that shared parenting does not imply a single time in a child’s life. It refers to a childhood-long parenting plan. The plan is reviewed periodically and adapted to fit a child’s emotional, scholastic and physical needs as they grow.
The definition from Famillies Need Fathers (FNF) revolves around the objectives to be achieved.
These are as follows:
1) That the children feel that they have two properly involved parents.
2) That one parent is not able to dominate the lives of the children at the expense of the other or to control the other parent via the children.
3) That the parents have broadly equal 'moral authority' in the eyes of the children and that the children have free access to both their parents if there are issues affecting them.
4) That the children are able to share the lives of both their parents 'in the round' - for example not spending all 'routine time' with one parent and only 'leisure time' with the other.
5) That the parents are in a position of legal and moral equality, and are considered in this light by the children as well as friends, neighbours, teachers etc as well as public authorities, this would apply to routine as well as major matters.
6) That there is no part of the children's lives, for example their school life or having friends, that one parent is excluded from by virtue of the allocation of parenting time or the law on separation/divorce and children.
7) That the children are not by virtue of the allocation of parenting time excluded from any part of either parent's life.
8) That the children spend enough time with both parents to be able to negate any attempts at 'parental alienation'.
9) That the children do not develop stereotyped ideas from their parents about the roles of the sexes, for example that a father’s role is chiefly financial and a 'giver of treats', and that mothers have responsibility for everything else.
How to apply these criteria to particular families will be a matter of discussion and negotiation, taking into account the individual needs and wishes of the children and parents, and the circumstances in question. As always, the needs of the child must be paramount.
How do I proceed in the necessary direction?
Familes Need Fathers suggests:
1) That week-end contact begins with picking up the child(ren) from school/nursery on Friday and continues to delivering them on Monday. This will increase equality of parenting time, allow sufficient time for real shared activities and bonding, allow contact between the parent currently known as the “Non Resident Parent” and the school plus other parents and their children (which are likely to be their own children's friends). In the event of concerns about the parents meeting each other, the need for this will be reduced.
2) That there be mid-week contact, normally picking up the child from school/nursery, and, if practical, the child staying overnight. This will increase the range of activities that the children share with both parents. It is important, for example, that both parents are involved in homework.
3) That 'half the holidays' be interpreted as half the time school children are not at school rather than half the time the adults have as holidays. It should include having school training days and having other holidays and festival days, if the parents cannot both be involved.
The lives of babies and children too young to go to school are less constrained. Shared parenting will often mean a more equal allocation of parenting time than is possible for older children, which can benefit both parents e.g. by allowing them to do paid work more easily, as well as the child.
4) That special days - for example Christmas or other festival holidays, the children's and their siblings' birthdays - be equally shared if the parents cannot be together for them. That the children also be allowed to be with the relevant parent for days that are special for that parent - for example their birthdays and those of their grandparents, or for other festivals and important events. Examples are ‘take your child to work days’, sports fixtures (for both the children and the parents), Mothers’ Day with their mothers and Fathers’ Day with their fathers.
5) That the children are not put into day-care, after-school clubs, babysat or other alternatives to parental care, if one of their parents is available to look after them.
6) If one parent has demands that restrict their availability for parenting they should not be allowed to claim priority in the time they have available.
7) That time for the children to see their grandparents and wider family - on both sides of the family - must be adequate.
This article is kindly provided by Families Need Fathers, a charity concerned with the problems of maintaining a child's relationship with both parents during and after family breakdown. They offer information, advice and support services for parents.