The Gender issue

Shared Parenting and Men

For the past two decades, especially due to the publicity generated by organisations such as Fathers for Justice, we could be forgiven for thinking that shared parenting is solely a father’s rights or men’s rights movement.

Obviously, not having a rebuttal presumption of shared parenting in law has extremely adverse effects on men separated from their children be they in heterosexual or homosexual relationships.

In 2015, a study by the office of national statistics[1] showed that divorced men were nearly three times more likely to take their own lives (27.4 per 100,000 compared to 9.6 per 100,000 divorced women) The charity The Samaritans, elaborated on this stating that men are more likely to be separated from their children and this plays a role in some men’s suicides.[2]

Fathers for Justice themselves  claim that they are made aware of 3 or 4 suicides a month by fathers whose desperation to see their children becomes too much. Although this may be more anecdotal, we cannot continue to put a huge emphasis on male mental health without tacking the issue of the harrowing effect being denied a role in their children’s lives has on fathers.

Shared Parenting and Women

However, labelling shared parenting as another men’s/father’s rights issue does a huge disservice to women and ignores two key points which are primordial in this issue:-

  1. The majority of women are actually sympathetic to shared parenting and many are ardently in favour of it.
  2. A rebuttal of presumption of shared parenting post separation would be hugely beneficial to women. Its absence is detrimental to their interests just as much as it is to men’s interests albeit in different ways.

Women support shared parenting

Looking at the first point, recent polls taken in 2019 found that 75% of women are in favour of a rebuttal presumption of a child’s time being shared equally between parents following separation.[3]

More significantly The Women’s Equality Party – arguably the leading feminist organisation in the UK – are also advocating a ‘legal expectation’ of ‘full involvement of both parents – as this is best for women AND for children.’[4]

Furthermore, looking across the Atlantic organisations such as ‘Moms for Shared Parenting’  (https://momsforsharedparenting.org/) and ‘Leading Women for Shared Parenting’  (http://lw4sp.org/) bear testimony to the fact that this issue is supported by many women in general and – importantly – by mothers in particular.  

How women benefit from shared parenting

Career opportunities

Separated and divorced women who share the care of children with their former partner have more time to devote to work and personal enrichment. Being freed from the expectation of being the ‘primary carer’  can liberate mothers to pursue career goals.

According to Emma Johnson, Founder  of ‘Moms for Shared Parenting’ in the US:- ‘50-50 parenting establishes true gender equality in the workplace. When both moms and dads are expected to care for kids in equal measure, men and women are now free to work and earn in equal measure.’

She goes on to argue that that family court is the most powerful institution in closing the gender pay gap. She states that this is caused by gender inequality in both compensation and power in the workforce as well as in time and energy spent on child care

Having a balance of parenting time    

An unequal balance of parenting time often leans that mothers are burdened with the responsibilities of parenthood with fathers assuming the role of secondary parent. This means  they have all of the fun at weekends and holidays but can shirk the more onerous duties of parenthood such as ensuring that homework is done and that the greens are eaten.

The result is often that the mother is demonised by the child and, conversely, that same  child idolises their father. When the child is old enough the old mantra that ‘ the grass is greener’ may mean that they choose to change residency and live with their fathers full time.

Obviously, this is a scenario which is an extremely unjust and one which would have an adverse effect on the mother and her relationship to her child with implications for the mental health of both.

Indeed, organisations like Women’s Aid acknowledge that there has been research to suggest that an abusive father could take advantage of his financial superiority and his role as the ‘fun parent’ for weekends and holidays to try to undermine, distort and disrupt this relationship and turn children against their mothers as the ‘boring/routine’ everyday parent.[5] If care and responsibilities to care for and provide for children were shared more equally between parents, this would minimise the risk of this type of behaviour. It is no surprise that in intact couples, incidents of domestic abuse are lower when both parents share the roles of carer and provider.[6]

It is clear that the current system where shared care of children post parental separation is the exception not the rule perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes that exclude fathers and drive expectations of mothers to be the ‘primary carer’ for children

Building bridges to women’s groups

Let us be very clear, not one person contributing  to or affiliated to this campaign would want any change in the law to inadvertently put a woman – or a child – at risk from an abuser using a child arrangements order which promoted shared living arrangements to continue to perpetuate their abuse.

This has been a concern of organisations such as Women’s Aid as expressed in their submissions to the Family Justice Bill in 2014. Our understanding is that this fear is fundamental to their opposition to a rebuttal presumption of shared parenting being enshrined in legislation.

However, the same organisation state that a significant proportion of women who return to the relationship attribute their inability to deal with their finances as a major contributing factor, which is often exacerbated by the fact that the abuser often has all of the economic and social standing and complete control over the family finances. This is supported by the Institute of Family Studies (IFS)[7]

Therefore, a shared parenting arrangement post separation would liberate women to seek employment and therefore secure financial independence and safeguard victims from having to return to an abusive relationship due to monetary constraints.

We need to show that changing the law to assume that non-abusive fathers can be equally involved in their children’s lives whilst safeguarding women and children from abusive men.

Caveats on this theme have been carefully crafted into shared parenting legislation throughout the world most recently and most notably HB 528 in Kentucky.[8] Child arrangement orders (CAOs) can be drafted in such a way that children  can live with both parents whilst minimising the contact between parents in cases where domestic abuse has been raised.

It is time to sit down and talk. It is time to work on a new Family justice Bill collaboratively as has been done in other countries. This is an open invitation. Pick up the phone and talk to us. 07805058080


[1] See https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/whoismostatriskofsuicide/2017-09-07

[2] See https://media.samaritans.org/documents/Men-and-Suicide-Report-Samaritans.pdf

[3]  You Gov and Comres Poll (June 2019) https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/fathers-call-for-equalaccess-to-children-after-divorce-n5cp9xdxq https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/campaigners-call-forshared-parenting-presumption-in-the-law/5070639.article https://www.comresglobal.com/polls/fathers4justice-opinion-poll-june-2019/

[4] Womens Equality Party https://www.womensequality.org.uk/equal_parenting_and_caregiving (paragraph at bottom of page) https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/womensequality/pages/279/attachments/original/1487934933/ WEP_policy_document_2017.pdf?1487934933 (page 14)

[5] Coy et al., 2012Harne, 2011Katz, 2016

[6] University of Carlos III Madrid 2017 https://phys.org/news/2017-05-link-employment-status-domestic-violence.html

[7] Jason Whiting 2016 https://ifstudies.org/blog/eight-reasons-women-stay-in-abusive-relationships

[8] This states ‘the court shall consider the safety and well-being of the parties and of the  children. If a domestic violence order is being or has been entered against a party by another party or on behalf of a child at issue in the custody hearing, the presumption  that joint custody and equally shared parenting time is in the best interest of the child  shall not apply as to the party against whom the domestic violence order is being or has  been entered. The court shall weigh all factors in determining the best interest of the child.