John Forsyth: Sharing parenting as important as sharing fees
Sophie Pike’s instructive blog about childcare and how the costs might be shared between separated parents sets out possible legal routes to resolve disagreement. We agree with her conclusion that it is far better for parents (and their children) to reach agreement and to steer clear of the courts if possible, writes John Forsyth.
For separated parents of means - either one or both - the argument can usually be resolved in an accounting exercise albeit often conducted against a soundtrack of irritation, outrage and mutual questioning of motives between the parties.
However, drawing on our casework from the last 12 years it is apparent that other dynamics can work against the efforts to reach agreement.
Early in Sophie’s blog she refers to ‘single’ parents but thereafter moves to ‘resident’ and ‘non-resident’ parents. Single parent and parent with residence are not interchangeable terms.
During the progress of the Children (Scotland) Bill through Holyrood in 2020 we lobbied for a change of language to get rid of the ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ terms as implying an unhelpful distinction of status between two parents who may both have unmodified Parental Rights and Responsibilities and who both may be committed to their children.
It comes up as a concern fairly frequently on our helpline that a ‘resident’ parent has signed up their child to child care or nursery or swimming classes or karate without the knowledge or agreement of the other parent. Often the first the other parent gets to know about it is when their child tells them.
The ‘non-resident’ parent feels aggrieved that the child has been sent to child care when s/he is ready, competent and available to take whatever share of parenting would allow the ‘resident’ parent to return to work and doesn’t think s/he should pay for a share of fees that were never discussed, far less agreed. They are made to feel invisible and diminished in the eyes of their children. The ‘resident’ parent is aggrieved that their assumed status as decision-maker has been challenged.
Similarly, while free nursery places may be viewed as a good in itself for lower income households we have always had a niggling worry that it relieves separated parents from the responsibility of working together for their children. It is easier for some to share parenting with the state than with the other parent.
Our view is that equitable shared parenting is not only generally beneficial for most children who draw confidence from the support and attention of both parents but is also a key element in progressing gender equality. It unpicks the unfair assumptions that total responsibility for child care always rests with the mother. It is a strong argument, particularly expressed in the US, that mothers who share parenting equally earn more, have better careers and report that they have a better quality of life.
John Forsyth is policy manager at Shared Parenting Scotland