Rainscourt Family Law Solicitors

What is shared residence?

Today, The Centre for Social Justice thinktank published a press release, stating that one million children in the UK grow up in a “man desert” with no contact with their father or a male role model or a male teacher. The report includes league tables for the most number of single parent households, and reveals that 75% of all households containing children in a ward of Sheffield are lone parent household.

In contrast to this, what happens when one or both parents want an order from the court to establish that they are “equal in the eyes of the law and that they have equal duties and responsibilities as parents*”?  This is  the concept of “shared residence”.  You quite often still read about or hear people refer to the concept of “custody” but this is a term that has not been used for a while by the family justice system.  The terms which the courts and lawyers now use are contact and residence.  If a case comes to court, there is usually an issue as to whether there should be Option 1: a shared residence order, or Option 2: a sole residence order with contact to the other parent.  A contact order is a court order requiring the person with “residence” of that child to make that child available to see the other parent.

There is no specific formula  to determine whether parents are in a shared residence situation or a residence and contact situation.  In reality, there will be no need to label an arrangement as either of these scenarios if parents can resolve the practical issues either themselves or in mediation.  In the event it becomes necessary for a judge to decide, he or she will bear in mind that a child’s time does not have to be equally divided between parents in order for a shared residence order to be made.  The order which will be made in each case turns on the facts, and the question at the forefront of the judge’s mind will be “what is in the best interests of this child?”.

Courts will specify in a shared residence order the specific periods of time that the child will reside in each household, and may need to go into great deal about timings of handovers, how birthdays of each parents or the child will be dealt with, and where the child will be spending their holidays.

When parents embark on a court application, the court will encourage them to mediate their dispute, to explore whether these issues can be resolved without judicial involvement.  The government has confirmed that it intends to change the law so that there is some form of presumption of shared parenting, but this is not yet enshrined in law.  It is not clear whether making shared parenting a legal right will assist parents in meeting the best interests of their children, but in the meantime, this concept of  “the best interests of the child” is the ultimate guiding compass for the court throughout proceedings of this nature.

 

*Re P (Shared Residence Order) [2005] EWCA Civ 1639

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