Once upon a time in the days before mobile phones and the internet, indeed in an era when nobody could ever have imagined legislation such as The Shared Parental Orders Bill, an old family lawyer told me: “Don’t be fooled. If God had wanted parents to share the care of their children after separation He’d have made the world in 7 days and with an 8th for rest, they could then have each had 4 days with their offspring.”
How times have changed, although we do still have a seven day week but, even where parents divide up time with their kids on 14 day cycles, some children never know where they are going to be next. Homework, gym kit and school shoes are regularly left in the wrong house and we end up with a doubling up of all kinds of paraphernalia including an assorted menagerie of pets, pens and petticoats. Arrangements that work in some families don’t work in others; for some the dates and times are regimented and work like clockwork for others there is a permanent state of confusion, blissful or worrying depending upon the individuals concerned.
We have reached a situation where a colleague who practises in a different part of the country confessed that shared residence orders are handed out like sweeties in her local court, contrasting sharply with some of the District Judges I have appeared before who have insisted that a child must know where its permanent home is.
Unable to split the week properly in half, dividing children equally begins to sound a little like the Wisdom of Solomon. Hats off therefore to Gingerbread and One Plus One who published a report today with the timely reminder, not least to those about to consider that Shared Parental Orders Bill, that what is of paramount importance is the welfare of children. Their interests are the number one priority and they cannot be determined by any legal presumption in favour of shared care, especially if enshrining such a presumption into legislation enhances it to the status of a parental right. Tough conclusions but where the happiness and well-being of children are concerned, the idea of parental rights has to take second place.