Shared Parental Leave legislation is to come into effect this weekend.

Under the new law, parents of babies due on or after April 5th 2015 will be eligible for shared parental leave. The same benefit will apply to those who look after children adopted from this date.

According to employment relations minister Jo Swinson, this is an exciting development that gives parents the chance to "decide on the childcare arrangements that work best for the family".

This, she stated, is far better than being restricted by "outdated rules on maternity leave that assume every family is the same".

Writing in Personnel Today, Ms Swinson said the the rules have been designed to be as straightforward as possible both for employers and parents.

She acknowledged concerns that the changes could lead to more dads taking time out of work.

However, she stressed that they mean mums can come back to work at an earlier date if they wish to do so.

Ms Swinson also pointed out that the new system differs from maternity leave in that it allows employees to "stop and start shared parental leave and return to work for key periods and projects".

As a result, mothers and fathers will be able to "maintain a strong link to the workplace" and play a full part in the "vital first months of their child's life" at the same time.

The findings of a study carried out by Opinion Matters on behalf of the government suggest the changes are likely to be especially popular with male employees.

Some 29 per cent of fathers said they would have taken shared parental leave had the option been available to them, while 17 per cent said they "probably" would have done so.

Meanwhile, 47 per cent of dads said they wish the new system had been in place when they had their first child.

Eleanor Gilbert, senior associate at Winckworth Sherwood, commented: "The new shared parental leave scheme is very flexible, which means that the legislation and rules are complex and may seem daunting for employers. There is also a lot for employers to consider, for example, what to do about pay where they enhance pay for mothers taking maternity leave and the risk of discrimination claims arising from any decisions regarding pay."