I am often told by parents who have separated that they want to achieve “shared care” of their children. When I ask what they mean by that I get different responses. Some say they want an equal say when making decisions about them and some want their children to spend an equal amount of time with each parent.

So what is shared care and can it be achieved?

There is no legal definition of shared care. Of course, when parents separate, arrangements need to be made for the children to spend time with both of their parents unless there are good reasons why that should not happen. Ideally, those arrangements should be agreed however many parents need some help in identifying an appropriate arrangement and putting that into practice. Except in exceptional cases there is a presumption that the care of children should be shared in some way.

An equal division of time is sometimes a priority for parents but the question is how would that work? Is each week split down the middle or is it one week with one parent and one week with the other? Splitting the week does have its difficulties. Having a child spend half of their school week in one household and the other half in another can create problems with uniforms, homework and PE kits not being where they should be.

When it comes to decision making, whilst the parent with care at any particular time is making day to day decisions, both parents, usually have Parental Responsibility. This means that both should be involved in making decisions about their children. Just because a child is spending time with one parent does not mean that the other’s ability to be involved in decision making about the child should be limited. Both parents should have an equal say whatever the arrangements for the child are.

Sharing care means different things to different people. Whilst a child spending an equal amount of time with each parent works for some families it does not work for others. Subject to any safeguarding issues, it should always be possible to share care in some way so that children enjoy a relationship with each parent and both parents can participate in making decisions about their children. The actual arrangements however will vary from case to case and from family to family.

A court would always look at each case individually in considering what is in the best interests of the children at the heart of the application. The potential problem when making an application to court, however, is that you might end up with an arrangement being put in place that you aren’t altogether happy with.

At Farleys our Family Department are able to offer advice about child arrangements and sharing care tailored to your particular circumstances. Please contact us on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry through our online contact form.