On Monday night I watch a Dispatches programme on Channel 4 called ‘Sharing Mum and Dad’. The documentary followed presenter and divorced father of two Tim Lovejoy; investigating the roles of mums and dads in 2013, asking whether current legislation in this area is up-to-date with the way in which modern families operate, and exploring different ways of sharing parenting post-separation.

The programme really got me thinking.

A general misconception is that the Court favours the mother in family proceedings. This is not an accurate reflection of the law surrounding contact and residence. The Court is concerned only with what is in the best interests of the child/ren in the particular circumstances of a case. The status quo, where possible, should be maintained.

Studies have shown that nearly half of all children will end up living with only one parent (Understanding Society, 2009-2010 ). In some cases contact between the children and the non-resident parent can be agreed but in others the non-resident parent may have to make an application through the Court. In around 80% of cases, the Applicant will be the father.

Society is ever evolving. Historically, mothers have been the primary carers of the children with fathers going out to work to earn money. Increasingly however, mothers want men to share parenting in order that they can go out and work. Despite this, a study has shown that in 9/10 households the majority of child care is undertaken by mum. This leads to the conclusion that, should separation occur, the father would usually be the non-resident parent.

A new bill is currently being considered by Parliament regarding shared parenting. The main proposed change would be to Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 to include a presumption that it is in the child’s best interests to have both parents involved in their lives, unless any issue of safety would prevent this.

The aim of the proposed amendments to the law does not mean that there will be a presumption the children should reside with each parent for an equal amount of time. The key elements of change are hoped to bring stability and consistency to contact arrangements. If parents get on, this can only mean less stresses for each of them and more importantly the child.

There will of course always be cases where amicable an agreement between parents is simply not feasible for one reason or another. There are, however, different avenues which can be explored in order to resolve issues of contact and residence on separation. For instance, there are over 400 Contact Centres in the UK, almost always run by volunteers. Around 15,000 children use such centres each year. Although many parents would not wish to visit their children in a semi-supervised setting, this can often be an invaluable stepping stone for the non-resident parent to build the trust and confidence of the resident parent. Should negotiations be unsuccessful, an application through the Court can be made but wherever possible, this should be avoided.

At Farleys, we have a number of family law specialists dealing with matters of residence and contact following on from separation or divorce. In addition, we offer a Collaborative Law service meaning that separated parties can instruct their own collaboratively trained lawyer and arrange face-to-face meetings to negotiate a way forward without the need for a protracted battle through the Court. In addition, all of our family solicitors are members of Resolution – an organisation of family solicitors committed to a constructive approach to the practice of family law.

For a free of charge initial discussion with a solicitor about a child residency order or hearing, or indeed any other family law matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.