A recent poll* concluded that respondents agreed that the starting point should be that a child should spent equal amounts of time with each parent following a divorce or separation.
This point has been considered by the Government in recent years, however has been specifically rejected. Interestingly though, this presumption exists in a number of European and English speaking states, including Australia.
Whilst there is a presumption of shared care following divorce or separation in England and Wales, there is no presumption for how the care should be split.
Is 50/50 a Good Idea?
On the face of it, this mathematically makes sense and feels fair. Both parents have equal responsibility and it is considered in the best interests of a child to spend time with both parents, unless there is evidence to the contrary. A 50/50 presumption therefore gives parents an equal starting point, before parties present arguments and evidence to the court in favour of a more suitable arrangement.
However, this presumption may not be appropriate in all circumstances, for example:
- if there is risk of harm to the child spending time with one of the parents, then it will need to be considered whether a 50/50 split is appropriate
- in the case of particularly young children, being moved from parent to parent /house to house can be unsettling and make important routines difficult to manage
- parent's working or living arrangements (such as the size of their property or living in a different city) may mean that a 50/50 split is not always practical
What Is the Current Position?
Currently, there is no specific guidance on what the starting point should be, save that any decisions regarding child arrangements should be made in the 'best interests' of the child. Unfortunately, opinions of what is in the best interests of the child can vary between parents, respective lawyers and judges. With that in mind, it is very difficult to predict the outcome in the event of a dispute.
So What Can I Do?
An important point to take away from this is that there is no certainty. What works for one child, may not necessarily work for another and therefore there is no blueprint for what child arrangements should be.
Whilst the courts do play an important role in determining child arrangements, parents ultimately have a responsibility to ensure that they try to come to an arrangement that is suitable for their child. Whilst this may not be achievable in all circumstances, it is important that parents do not consider the courts as the first and only option.