Is a shared parenting arrangement best for my children?

When parents separate / divorce…

Unfortunately, divorce (and separation of de facto couples) happens frequently in our society. It is a major source of stress for everyone involved – especially for those separating families with children.

After parents separate, their children’s needs remain the same: secure, loving, supportive and emotional ties with parents they can trust and be comforted by.

After parents separate, they need to find a new way of parenting that works for them and their children. Some divorced/separated couples continue to share parenting, while others choose to continue their roles as parents separately. That decision often depends on levels of conflict involved, and other factors such as distance, work commitments, financial pressures, and the family’s individual parenting history.

We understand that no two families are the same and so it follows, every parenting arrangement / agreement made following separation needs to be considered on its own facts and in light of each family’s own circumstances.

Living arrangements for children after their parents separate

When parents make the decision to separate, they need to make some usually very difficult parenting decisions. For example, they need to decide where their children will live and how much time they will spend with each parent. Deciding on those living arrangements can be complex and stressful, especially if parents have strong and different views about parenting, the relationship was characterised by family violence and/or unresolved conflict.

It is usually at that stage that we see parents come to us seeking advice in relation to parenting matters with questions as to their options and their obligations in relation to their children.

Living equally with each parent

As part of our advice, we tell our clients there is a range of parenting options available to them following the breakdown of a relationship. One of these options is shared parenting, or shared care. Shared parenting is sometimes considered the best option for children of separated parents, as it demonstrates to children that both parents want to care for them and be involved in their everyday lives.

What are the benefits of shared care?

Shared care arrangements can benefit both children and parents. For example:
• Children get to have a close and meaningful relationship with each parent;
• Children get to spend quality time with each parent, without the need to rush them back into the care of the parent that same day or soon after; and
• Both parents have the opportunity to be substantially involved in their children’s lives

When is it not appropriate to enter into shared care?

In our experience, it is important that shared care arrangements occur in a positive and cooperative environment. Ideally, we find those arrangements work well when parents are able to work constructively together, and protect their children from being exposed to hostile or negative behaviour. In our experience, shared care arrangements do not work and are not appropriate in a negative or high conflict atmosphere, including when:
• there are high levels of inter-parental conflict
• there are ongoing and significant psychological bitterness between parents
• one or both parents see the children as being at risk when in the care of the other
• there is a history of family violence is apparent and relatively recent
• there is a history of child abuse or neglect

In these circumstances, a shared care arrangement is likely to adversely impact on the children and do more harm than good.

What factors should you consider in deciding about shared care arrangements?

A shared parenting decision needs to be made in light of the best interests of the children and, to a lesser extent, those of the parents themselves. It is important to consider children’s safety, needs, rights, interests and their expressed wishes and views. Other relevant factors that need to be considered include the child’s age, gender, stages of development, cultural background, primary attachment needs and relationship with each parent.

Those considerations need to be taken into account together with the level of parental conflict, parental competence, the level of commitment shown by each parent to the care and nurturing of their child, where each parent lives and, importantly, how practical it is to share care. The quality and ability of communication between parents is also of great importance.

We have found that considering those factors can help families make informed decisions that are positive for their children, and hopefully allow both parents opportunities for involvement in their children’s lives.

If you would like advice, guidance or assistance in relation to your parenting arrangements following the breakdown of your marriage or relationship, contact our Family Law Team here at Taylor & Scott Lawyers.

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