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Shared residency in English law

Shared residency in English law

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For the general principles, see Residence in English law
Residence in English law
Residence in English law can refer to*Family law*Immigration law*Taxation law:See also*Residence in English family law....

Shared residence, or joint residence, refers to the situation where the child(ren) of parents who have divorced or separated reside(s) with each parent at different times, and each parent has equal status in law. In English family law
Family law
Family law is an area of the law that deals with family-related issues and domestic relations including:*the nature of marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships;...

 s8(1) Children Act 1989
Children Act 1989
The Children Act 1989 is a British Act of Parliament that altered the law in regard to children. In particular, it introduced the notion of parental responsibility. Later laws amended certain parts of the Children Act...

 defines a residence order as one "...settling the arrangements to be made as to the person with whom a child is to live". A sole order settles the child(ren) in the home of one parent. The other parent will usually be allowed contact
Contact (law)
In family law, contact is one of the general terms which denotes the level of contact a parent or other significant person in a child's life can have with that child...

. A joint or shared order allows the child(ren) to alternate periods of residence between the homes of both parents.
Shared residence refers to a situation where the children live in two (or more) households. The term joint residence is used for the situation where the children live with two people who themselves live in the same household (for example, with their father and his partner.)


Shared residence orders are relatively uncommon in the UK, but should be the option of choice in cases where both parents want to be fully involved in their children's upbringing, either or both parents consent to the order, and the Court certifies that the Order is in the best interests of the child(ren). The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations, Volume 1, Court Orders produced by the President of the Family Division (the leading judge
A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and in an open...

 of the Family Court
Family court
A family court is a court convened to decide matters and make orders in relation to family law, such as custody of children. In common-law jurisdictions "family courts" are statutory creations primarily dealing with equitable matters devolved from a court of inherent jurisdiction, such as a...

, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss) and published by the Stationery Office in 1991 discussed shared orders in paragraph 2.2(8) at page 10: -
...it is not expected that it would become a common form of order, partly because most children will still need the stability of a single home, and partly because in the cases where shared care is appropriate there is less likely to be a need for the court to make any order at all. However, a shared care order has the advantage of being more realistic in those cases where the child is to spend considerable amount of time with both parents, brings with it certain other benefits (including the right to remove the child from accommodation provided by a local authority under s.20), and removes any impression that one parent is good and responsible whereas the other parent is not.

This was the approach in D v D (Shared Residence Order) (2001) 1 FLR 495 http://www.familieslink.co.uk/pages/law_ukcases_dvd.htm, in which it was held that residence of the children involved could be shared, even when one of the parents was hostile to the idea. The principle was clearly stated: it is not necessary to show that exceptional circumstances exist before a shared residence order may be granted. Nor is it probably necessary to show a positive benefit to the child. What is required is to demonstrate that the order is in the interest of the child in accordance with the requirements of s1 Children Act 1989 which makes the interests of the children the first and paramount concern of the Courts in any litigation. In the case of very young children, there is an informal rebuttable presumption
Rebuttable presumption
Both in common law and in civil law, a rebuttable presumption is an assumption made by a court, one that is taken to be true unless someone comes forward to contest it and prove otherwise. For example, a defendant in a criminal case is presumed innocent until proved guilty...

 in disputed cases that a very young child's interests are more likely to be served by having a single 'base' with one parent, regardless of how the other has performed. This may be rebutted by evidence to demonstrate that the child's interests will be better served by shared residence, or by sole residence with one spouse or with other significant persons. Recently, Baroness Morris of Bolton commented:
"If a parent is considered a fit parent when they are married or living together, there is no reason in a normal case why that assumption should change just because they separate or divorce. They should not have to prove that they are able to care for their children by being subject to reversal of the burden of proof that the current system operates. That in no way undermines the presumption that the welfare of the child is a paramount concern; it supports it. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200405/ldhansrd/pdvn/lds05/text/51011-35.htm

The opinions of older children will always be sought as the basis for determining what is in their best interests, and children have the right to be separately represented in any proceedings. In non-disputed cases, residence is provided by both parents in agreed proportions, often without the need for the Court to make an Order.

The issue of hostility was addressed in Re M (Intractable Contact Dispute: Interim Care Order) (2003) 2 FLR 636, which provides for the making of an order under s37 Children Act 1989 inviting the local authority to investigate and report. Wall J. found that the mother had caused the children to believe that they had suffered abuse at the hands of the father and paternal grandparents, and that an assessment was needed when the children were not at home with the mother. This was secured away from the home under an interim care order. Free from the mother’s influence, the children were rapidly able to re-establish their relationship with the father. Subsequently an Order was made that they reside with him. Although this approach in not appropriate in all cases involving disputing parents, it is a useful tool to have available. If it is clear that contact is desirable but one parent obstructs it, the risk of significant harm may be present. The judge must prepare a coherent care plan, identifying the reasons for making a Section 37 Order, and stating the consequences of the Order and possible removal. In these proceedings, it is essential that the children are separately represented and that there the same judge is allocated to deal with all aspects arising from the proceedings.

In Family Law, each case is held to be unique on its facts, but the usual process of the interpretation of the law being based on precedents applies. Hence, since D v D, there have been a number of cases where shared residence has been awarded to children in spite of one parent's initial objections or continuing hostility including:
  • Re A (Children) (Shared Residence) (2002) 1 FCR 177, where a sole order was varied by consent to a joint order in part, because a joint residence order confirms both spouses on an equal authority vis-à-vis the world. That might have practical implications, particularly, for instance, in relation to the Child Benefit Agency and to the drawing of child benefit
    Child benefit
    Child benefit is a social security payment disbursed to the parents or guardians of children. Child benefit is means-tested in some countries.-Australia:...

     which would have been drawn by one spouse alone. This acknowledgement of the equal competence of the parents, also buttresses the spouse's sense of well-being and of self-esteem as parents.
  • Re F (Shared Residence Order) (2003) 2 FLR 397 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2003/592.html records a well-balanced decision for a joint order by the judge of first instance made the subject of an appeal by an unhappy spouse. The appeal was withdrawn in the face of the comments of the Court of Appeal demonstrating the fairness of the joint order.
  • A Father and A Mother v Their Two Children (B and C) (2004) EWHC 142 (FAM) http://www.courtservice.gov.uk/judgmentsfiles/j2253/father&mother.htm in which a bitter contest was finally resolved by a joint order.

This topic has elements of controversy. Emotions are roused in any legal case which declares winners and losers. These emotions tend to be more intense when the subject matter of the dispute is residence and contact with child(ren). Hence, there is much discussion in partisan non-legal literature which may be accessed in the internal and external links.

Legislation in England & Wales

A Shared Parenting Bill was presented by Mr Brian Binley
Brian Binley
Brian Arthur Roland Binley is a British Conservative politician, and the Member of Parliament for Northampton South.-Early life:...

 and had a second reading on 17 June 2011. It is a Bill to provide for the making of Shared Parenting Orders and to create a legal presumption that such Orders enhance the welfare of the child unless certain exceptions apply; and for connected purposes.

See also

  • List of parenting issues affecting separated parents
  • Child custody
    Child custody
    Child custody and guardianship are legal terms which are used to describe the legal and practical relationship between a parent and his or her child, such as the right of the parent to make decisions for the child, and the parent's duty to care for the child.Following ratification of the United...

  • Childrens centre
  • Fathers' rights
    Fathers' rights
    The fathers' rights movement is a movement whose members are primarily interested in issues related to family law, including child custody and child support that affect fathers and their children. Many of its members are fathers who desire to share the parenting of their children equally with their...

  • Parental responsibility
    Parental responsibility (access and custody)
    In the nations of the European Union and elsewhere, parental responsibility refers to the rights and privileges which underpin the relationship between a child and either of the child's parents or those adults who have a significant role in the child's life...

  • Parenting plan
    Parenting plan
    A Parenting Plan or Custody Agreement is required by the district court along with divorce paperwork when parents divorce or separate. A Parenting Plan allows parents to avoid future conflicts arising from a lack of guidelines in dealing with responsibilities relating to the children...

  • Shared parenting
    Shared parenting
    Shared parenting refers to a collaborative arrangement in child custody or divorce determinations in which the care of the children is equal or more than substantially shared between the biological parents.- Nature and History :...

External links