There are numerous questions surrounding shared custody. What is it? How does it work? And how is it different to contact (as visitation is called these days)?
In many instances, residence (custody) is granted to the mother, and you, as the father have your contact rights set out. With shared custody, your children split their time between their mother and you. The amount varies – it can be as much as 70% with the mother, for instance – but it means you have much greater contact with them. It presumes, of course, that both the mother and father are fit parents.
UK Lagging Behind
It’s an idea that has widespread popularity in Europe, and in the U.S. it’s becoming more common, although the UK has lagged behind in adopting it.
Shared custody demands a high level of commitment from both parents. If you’re going to have your children for three days a week, then during that time you have you need to make sure your schedule revolves around them.
The Advantages of Shared Custody
Shared custody, shared residency or shared parenting as it’s also known, can offer several distinct advantages, both for parents and children. For separated fathers, it means they can be far more involved with their children, seeing them on a regular, extended basis every week. Moreover, it also means that neither parent is carrying the entire burden of parenting while the other is considered absent.
With standard Contact Orders, one parent has the majority of responsibility for the day-to-day routine, while the other – usually the separated father – sees the children at the weekend or selected weekdays.
Shared custody means your Children Have Two Homes, two stable bases where they can feel secure. Above all, it means they continue to have a real family life with both parents, which makes them feel more loved.
Research has determined that when children have experience of shared custody they have better relationships with both parents and are more satisfied with their lives. It’s also shown that even when there’s strong animosity between the parents, shared custody works well for the children.
The Disadvantages of Shared Custody
For shared custody to work, you have to live fairly close to you ex, for your children to continue to attend the same schools, see their friends, and so on. This can create social problems for the parents, since proximity means an increased chance of contact with your Ex Partner.
Also, if your job or circumstances change and you have to move elsewhere, then the change from shared custody to contact can create emotional problems for your children (the same can apply if your ex has to move for any reason). In other words, by its nature there has to be a certain amount of flexibility in the plan.
Shared Custody in the UK
At present, shared custody/residency is not the norm in Britain, although several organisations are trying to increase its visibility and prominence. The Shared Parenting Information Net and the Equal Parenting Council are both working to make it a very acceptable option here.
Just because it’s not necessarily the norm, does not mean you can’t bring up the idea in Mediationor through your solicitor as a viable means of custody. In most instances, children are also given a say in where they spend their time, and where they have excellent relationships with both parents, it means they’re not in a position where they have to “choose” between Mum and Dad.
Why not have a read through our article on Making Joint Decisions About Your Child’s Future for some advice and guidance on how you and your ex partner can make parenting decisions together.