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What is a shared custody agreement?

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What is shared parenting?

The word “custody” is often used by parents despite it not being the term presently adopted by legal professionals. Lawyers, the courts and mediators now use the term “care” instead, which has since produced terms such as “shared care” to describe those situations that were once shared custody. But what does it mean? Well, there are differing opinions as to what exactly shared care is and what a shared care arrangement should look like.

Traditionally, child arrangements agreements or orders would centre around the idea that one parent has custody; meaning that they are the primary carer and the child(ren) live with that parent for the majority of the time. Then, the other parent would have “visitation”, meaning that they would see their children at fixed days for fixed times.

It is generally agreed that it is in the best interests of children for them to spend time with both of their parents, following separation. Shared care allows for this to happen as it offers scope for children to be raised with the love and care of both their parents. Children can expect to spend quality time with each of their parents as part of a shared care arrangement. Shared care agreements shift the practicalities of traditional ideas of custody in that children are not only spending fixed amounts of time with their parents, but are being raised and cared for.

Mediators often ask parents what they are hoping to achieve at mediation. We are often met with the answer that they are looking for “50/50 contact”. Shared care does not mean 50/50 – in fact, it is quite rare for Courts to order that children will spend equal time with each parent following separation. However, this does not mean that an order will not be close to 50/50 moving forward. What we mean by shared care is that each parent will have equal (“50/50”) responsibilities, obligations, and decision-making for their children. The main reason why 50/50 contact is not always the case in shared care agreements is due to practicality. We all work, we have commitments, there could be logistical considerations such as distance between parents. The main point to know is that even if contact is not exactly 50 per cent of the time does not mean that you each do not have shared care.

What can I expect a shared care arrangement to do?

There are a number of things that you can expect when achieving a shared care agreement:

  1. Your children should feel as though each of their parents are actively involved in their lives. This means that both parents will have an involvement in all aspects of the children’s lives, including leisure, medical, school and yes, homework!
  2. Both parents are involved in decision-making in this regard, one parent will not dominate this.
  3. Neither parent will be excluded from important parts of their child’s life.
  4. Both parents will encourage their children to spend time with the other parent.
  5. Children will spend quality time with each parent as part of the arrangements. Often in a shared care agreement, children will spend significant proportions of time with each parent. This often materialises in school holidays, but will be running throughout the arrangement.
  6. Both parents are equal in the eyes of your children. Your children have free access to each parent as part of the arrangement. A common goal is that children will feel as though they have two homes, one with each parent.

A shared care arrangement is about moving from the traditional views of custody and visitation, as described above, to a shared parenting/coparenting approach where parents are actively involved in the lives of their children, and the children can see this. Custody in practice can lead to one parent feeling isolated, which has resulting impacts on children. Shared care arrangements seek to prevent this from happening.

This may seem repetitive, but it is important to take this away from this short blog post: Shared care does not mean 50/50 contact.

So, if a shared care agreement isn’t 50/50, then what is it?

Shared parenting does not require children to spend equal time with parents. As above, this can actually be quite difficult to achieve in practical terms. Every family is different and as such, arrangements will differ greatly. Some parents may choose to use an arrangement where children spend time with each parent one-week-on/one-week-off to achieve a 50/50 shared agreement. This, however, can be quite difficult for children, particularly due to spending extended periods of time away from each parent. Alternatively, parents may do a few days on/off throughout the week to achieve this, but this can be equally difficult as children are moving from one home to another home repeatedly. It can be difficult to find a middle ground.

This is where mediation can help. At mediation we will explore various proposals. You can expect to look at these proposals in practical terms: What could work? What won’t work? What could we do to make this work? These are all questions you can expect to explore in considering a shared care agreement moving forward. If you would like to use mediation to explore options for a shared care arrangement, you should first book in for a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). You can do this by clicking here or calling our office on 0113 468 9593. You can read more about MIAMs and the mediation process here.

Some common proposals that parents will move forward with in shared care arrangements are alternate weekends, consistent weekdays every week, and equally shared holidays. The latter is very important as it gives parents extended periods of time in the year where true quality time can be spent together, for example going on holiday.

The main thing in a shared care agreement is that each parent will agree that they are equally involved and important in the lives of their children.

What sort of things are covered in a shared care agreement?

You can cover lots of things in the arrangement that are important to you. Common areas of focus are:

  • Where children will live mostly and how often they will spend time with the other parent.
  • How often children will spend time with wider family as part of the arrangement.
  • Where children will go to school.
  • What religion children will be raised in.
  • Child maintenance and support.
  • Agreements around communications and coparenting.

This is a non-exhaustive list and it will be necessary for both of you as parents to consider what is necessary for you and your family moving forward. The main question you should ask when exploring and proposing arrangements as part of a shared care agreement is What is in our children’s best interests? After all, this is the ultimate question the Courts would ask in making arrangements for your children.

Final thoughts about shared parenting agreements

Parental separation is a very difficult time for everybody involved, and this includes children. Following separation, it is fundamentally important that children feel loved and supported and are empowered to enjoy a strong relationship with each parent moving forward. Shared care arrangements allow for this to be the case. By working towards a shared care agreement, as parents you can ensure that each of you have an equal involvement in the lives of your children and therefore can provide your children with the reassurance and care they need moving forward.

The first step to achieve a shared care arrangement moving forward is to attend mediation. You will first need to attend a MIAM. This will involve meeting with one of our accredited mediators, who will provide you with information about mediation and give you the opportunity to discuss your case in more detail. Following this, we will invite the other parent to attend their individual MIAM. Once each of you have attended MIAMs, you will move onto joint mediation sessions where you will be able to explore options and move toward achieving an agreement. If you are able to agree, your mediator will be able to draft a Parenting Plan, which you can convert into a legally binding arrangement. Your mediator will be there throughout the process to facilitate conversations and guide you to achieving a shared care agreement that works for each of you and your children.

If mediation is not suitable or breaks down, then you will be able to apply to Court for a Child Arrangements Order. You can do this by completing a C100 form. Remember that Court should be your last resort and is more timely and costly than mediation. You can get support in completing C100 applications by contacting the Family Court Application Service (FCAS). Your mediator will provide you with more information about this should mediation break down.

Moving forward, please feel free to contact our office on 0113 468 9593 where our friendly team will be happy to provide you with more information and answer any questions that you may have. We look forward to supporting you.

Read more about what is coparenting? in our blog.

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