It is of course natural that when parents separate they will both want to spend as much time as possible with their children. This can often lead to situations in which one parent believes that the children should spend most of their time with them, and the other parent insists that the children should spend equal time with each parent.
So when are the courts prepared to make shared care orders?
Before we answer that, a note on terminology.
A shared care order is actually a type of child arrangements order. A child arrangements order specifies “with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and … when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person”. Technically, therefore, when we talk of shared care orders, we are actually referring to shared ‘live with’ orders.
Note that this does not necessarily mean equal sharing time between each parent. It just means that the child spends substantial time living with each parent.
Note also that an order that a shared care order is not required to acquire equal status with the other parent, as some parents assume. A parent with a ‘lives with’ order and a parent with a ‘spends time with’ order (i.e. a contact order) have equal parental responsibility, assuming that they already both have parental responsibility, as is usually the case.
Shared parenting presumption
What the law does however state is that when a court considers arrangements for a child it should presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of both parents in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare. This is known as the ‘shared parenting presumption’.
Once again, however, the presumption does not mean that the child should spend equal amounts of time with each parent, just that each parent should play as full a role in the child’s life as the court thinks appropriate.
Considerations for the court
Obviously, there are practical matters to consider before making a shared care order. Both parents must have suitable accommodation, in particular sleeping accommodation, and must not live too far from the child’s school.
Otherwise, it really just boils down to what is best for the welfare of the child, as in every case concerning child arrangements. In deciding what is best for the child’s welfare the court will consider the ‘welfare checklist’, as explained in this post.
It used to be considered that shared care orders were only appropriate if the parents remained on good terms with one another, as shared care can require greater cooperation between the parents. However, it is no longer considered that this should be a requirement for shared care, and such orders are now made even in cases where the parents no longer have a good relationship with one another provided, of course, that the court thinks that this would be best for the child.
The last thing to say is that there is nothing special about equal shared care, whereby the child spends exactly half of its time with each parent. The court will not be specifically seeking to achieve this where it thinks shared care is appropriate and, indeed, equal time orders are comparatively rare. As always, the exact time the child should spend living with each parent is determined by reference to what is best for the child’s welfare.
* * *
If you are considering seeking a shared care order then we would recommend that you seek the advice of an expert family lawyer. Family Law Café can put you in touch with such an expert – for further information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.
* * *
Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.