Shared Parenting: A New Father’s Perspective

Two things have happened since my blog in June about the proposed changes to legislation on shared parenting. Firstly, my wife gave birth to our first child; and secondly, the Department of Education have introduced the wording for the amendment which provides the legal basis for shared parenting.

I must say that a baby really does change your perspective on life. Notwithstanding the fact that you become obsessed with poo and fluid ounces, I already feel like I can connect more with my clients.

Although it is of course difficult for a father to feel as "involved" with a new baby’s upbringing in the early days (there’s only so many times you can pat your partner on the head whilst she’s breastfeeding), you strive to try and make yourself useful so that you can form your own bond.

I say this because my response as a family lawyer to the proposals was initially sceptical and still is to a degree. My fear has always been that legislation on the issue could lead to unnecessary litigation, particularly where there are likely to be more litigants in person in the courts in the near future.

However, my response as a new dad is now leaning towards "why not?". I already know after just 9 weeks that it would crush me if for whatever reason I was prevented from regularly seeing my son.

Families Need Fathers is not an organisation I have any affiliation or connection to, but their position that "in the vast majority of cases a child’s welfare will be best served by ensuring that they can continue to benefit from the full involvement of both parents in their lives" is certainly true.

I have started to think to myself what I would do if my wife and I separated and had to make arrangements for the care of our son. I would hope that we would be able to resolve matters fairly amicably; however, in this job you quickly learn that it is often far from easy to think and act reasonably in the midst of a separation.

I would hope that my experience with mediation would help me to engage with independent help and put our son’s needs before our own. I definitely think that with the help of a good solicitor conflict can be significantly minimised after separation.

Flexible parental leave

On the subject of shared parenting; whilst running the risk of wading into uncharted waters of employment law principles, I note with interest that the government plan to introduce flexible parental leave.

From 2015, it is proposed that parents will be able to take time off together or in turns and have a legal right to request flexible working.

It does appear that the current system is rather archaic and not in line with some other European (Scandinavia in particular) countries. In my own experience, there appears to be an inordinate amount of pressure on one parent to commit to work and the other to commit to parenting. It was, and still is, incredibly difficult to return to work after just two weeks with my new-born son.

Both proposals reveal the Government’s favour of a shared parenting approach, across various legal spectrums. It is to be welcomed of course; however care certainly needs to be taken in respect of family law principles and the need to minimise rather than increase unnecessary litigation.

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