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Why is shared parenting still a dirty term in the UK?

This opinion piece is almost 6 years old

Ian Maxwell is heading to Boston to hear how shared parenting is being recognised as the best way forward for children around the world

I'll be in Boston at the end of this month attending an international conference on shared parenting.

It promises to be a remarkable event with speakers from 18 countries contributing to the theme of the gathering, Shared Parenting Research: A Watershed in Understanding Children's Best Interests?

I'll be rubbing shoulders with some of the pre-eminent academics and researchers in the field such as Professor Richard Warshak and Dr Linda Neilsen from the USA, Dr Michael Lamb from England, Professor Edward Kruk from Canada, Professor Peter Parkinson from Australia and Dr Malin Bergstrom from Sweden, who spoke at the event we organised at the Holyrood Parliament last November. She told us that half of separated families in Sweden now have 50-50 shared care of their children

Ian Maxwell
Ian Maxwell

There is a growing body of evidence from around the world that sharing parenting is measurably beneficial for children in most areas of their life.

No-one can seriously doubt the good faith or the academic rigour with which these researchers have reached their conclusions. Yet discussion in the UK of the issues around shared parenting is often conducted from dug-in absolute positions. Even the phrase shared parenting raises blood pressure in some quarters long before the possible arrangements for achieving it are considered.

My modest contribution in Boston will be to share Families Need Fathers Scotland's experience over the last eight years in getting a hearing for shared parenting despite steadfast resistance from some influential sources.

There have been major changes in the way parenting is shared in what is indecorously known as intact families in Scotland no less than in other advanced countries. Partly this has been driven by an evolution of cultural assumptions about gender roles. Both fathers and mothers have been increasingly released from the straitjacket of old expectations about what each should do with their children. Fathers as breadwinners and mothers as homemakers is no longer the norm.

Change has also been driven by the increased participation of mothers in the workplace and fewer structured nine to five jobs for either parent. Children expect more parenting by both their parents.

But if the relationship unfortunately breaks down and the parents separate, the old paradigm crashes back into place. What was the family reality prior to separation becomes too difficult to contemplate for HMRC, DWP, schools, health providers, family lawyers and some sheriffs whose lives get easier if there is a main carer and a visiting parent.

A mountain of research show that this isn't the best arrangement for most children, but there are significant systemic disincentives to sharing parenting such as the way child support is calculated, encouraging separated parents to undermine each other's standing in the eyes of their children in order to win time with their children.

It is going to change. I'll be hoping to learn in Boston what we can do to hurry it along in Scotland.

For anyone interested in the breadth of the subjects to be discussed in Boston, the agenda is online.

Ian Maxwell is national manager of Families Need Fathers Scotland.



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