Shared residency

From Academic Kids

Shared residency, or joint residency, refers to the situation where the child of parents who have divorced or separated resides with each parent at different times, and each parent has equal status in law. In Family law shared residency differs from sole residency in that in the latter situation the child is deemed to be under the control of one parent (usually the mother), and the other parent is relegated to the status of contact parent, with no duties (other than financial ones) in respect of their offspring. In situations where shared residency is not the outcome, the excluded parent frequently feels a sense of outrage that an injustice has been perpetrated.

Shared residency was, until 2003, very rarely the outcome in Family law cases in the UK because guidelines produced by the President of the Family Division (the top UK faily court judge, Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss) do not recommend it where one of the parents resists the idea. This position was also supported by the government minister responsible for overseeing the judiciary. The situation changed with a Court of Appeal hearing known as D. v D., in which it was held that residency of the children involved could be shared, even when one of the parents was hostile to the idea. Since that time shared residency has become a viable option in cases where both parents want to be fully involved in their children's upbringing.

In family law, each case is held to be unique, so the usual process of the interpretation of the law being based on precedents does not apply. Nevertheless there have, since D. v D. been several cases where shared residency has been awarded to children in spite of one parent's objections. A case in 2004, presided over by The Hon. Mr Justice Wall, has been reported [1] (

The prevailing custom in the UK in cases of disputed child residency has almost invariably been to indicate that the child's interests will be served by having a single 'base', which has usually been with the mother, regardless of how the father has performed, and regardless of the fact that in nuclear families and in non-disputed cases child care tends to be provided by both parents in varying proportions. Judge Wall indicated that shared residence can work well even when the parents would not speak to each other and only communicated by email.

The position of the courts and the government effectively places parents who seek to remain involved in their children's lives after divorce or separation in a Catch-22 situation: if there were no dispute there would be no court case; if there is a dispute the fact of the dispute is used to disallow the outcome sought.

Justification to oppose shared residency is provided in the literature:

Where involvement and responsibility are shared so is the decision-making. A fatherís involvement in the domestic sphere means that the number of decisions that have to be negotiated greatly increases. Hence, in order to keep to a minimum the child-centred decisions and the inevitable conflicts, the fatherís participation is restricted by the mother. (Hoffman, 1977, cited in New and David, 1985, p 205).

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