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Shared Parenting Post Separation or Divorce

This paper explores child care arrangements which occur post divorce or separation in Britain.

Shared Parenting Post Divorce or Separation

A pre research position paper by Mark Dando, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health - University of the West of England.

"Marriage breakdown is perceived to be one of the most pressing social issues of the late twentieth century. As more couples separate and divorce increased attention is focused on ensuring that parents take seriously their continuing responsibilities towards their children" (Simpson, McCarthy and Walker 1993)


This paper explores child care arrangements which occur post divorce or separation in Britain. Firstly it discusses the context of divorce and separation and the ensuing common child care arrangements which are normative in contemporary British society. From within this context the paper then identifies and examines the ''shared parenting'' child care paradigm and provides a conceptual framework for its implementation. Lastly the paper examines why the shared parenting paradigm is visionary by reviewing the arguments which militate against and support this cooperative child care model.


1. The Context of Child Care Arrangements Post Divorce or Separation in Britain

2. The Paradigm of Shared Parenting

3. Factors militating against and supporting the paradigm of shared parenting

3.1 UK Cultural Norms
3.2 Parental Socialisation
3.3 Shared Parenting Role Models and Literature
3.4 The Emotional Effects of Divorce or Separation.
3.5 The Effects of Labelling and The Child Support Act 1991
3.6 Social economic status
3.7 Judicial Conservatism and Child Case Law
3.8 The Illusionary Effect of Parental Responsibility

4. Summary

1. The Context of Child Care Arrangements Post Divorce or Separation in Britain

The concept of the family in contemporary British society is complex and one of the major factors changing its construction is the incidence and consequence of divorce or separation. When exploring the prevalence of divorce it quickly becomes apparent that the numbers involved are significant with 171,000 Decree Absolutes being issued in 1991 alone, (Simpson et al 1995). Coherently it has been estimated that in excess of 37 per cent of current UK marriages are statistically likely to terminate in divorce, which denotes the highest incidence in Europe. This family reconstruction accounts for three-quarters of lone parent households and due to the highest rate of divorce being in the age range of 25 to 29, the majority of these families have dependent children. This data can be extrapolated to suggest that by the year 2,000 around three million children or five hundred children per day will be affected by divorce or separation, involving 25 per cent of all children before they reach the age of sixteen years, (Simpson et al 1995, Haskey 1991). The increase in children who now live in single parent households has consequently risen from 8 per cent in 1972 to 19 percent in 1993, (source OPCS 1993). It is important to recognise that the number of single parent families has additionally increased due to the incidence of families headed by mothers who have never married, which is estimated to have risen from 1 per cent in 1971 to 6 per cent in 1991, (source OPCS 1993).

When exploring the consequences of this family reconstruction phenomena it is evident that 90 per cent of these single parent households are headed by the mother, with the corollary that there is a trend for the father figure to disengage, (Kruk 1993, Richards and Dyson 1982). A number of research studies have specifically explored this father disengagement process, including the Relate Centre for Family Studies who conducted a longitudinal survey monitoring the experiences of ninety one divorced fathers and contact arrangements with their children, (Simpson et al 1995). This and the similar comparative study involving eighty fathers conducted by Kruk (1989), identified a gamut of major psychological factors and structural phenomena contributing towards father disengagement and subsequent marginalisation. They concluded that approximately 50 per cent of post divorce or separation fathers ''will not'' have contact with their former children following a two year period. Although requiring further exploration Kruk (1993) also proposes that the quality of the parent/child relationship denoted in the remaining engaged fathers can frequently include minimal contact arrangements, suggesting that the relative absence of caring/normal fathers (post divorce or separation) in the UK is a major policy issue, (Hewitt 1997).

A range of studies have examined the repercussions of fatherless children and by consensus postulate that the loss of the father ''role model'' can predispose child maladjustment and delinquency, which is statistically significant for boys/young adults, (Simpson et al 1995, Pugh et al 1994, Dennis and Erdos 1992). Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) additionally researched the emotional reactions which are normative in children who are subject to family separation and clearly identified that children with disengaged fathers frequently yearned for this absent parent creating insecurity, affect reaction, guilt, and confusion. These adverse reactions to parental loss are coherently supported by the research review conducted by the Winconsin Equal Shared Parenting Organisation (1997) who denote a range of child psychological health problems including, a higher suicide rate, alcohol and drug abuse, sleep disorders, lower academic achievement and a pessimistic perception of the world.

The disengagement of the father in post divorce or separated families has additionally a significant historical correlation with the absence or lowering of financial support, culminating in economic primary family poverty, (Harman 1997, DSS 1995, Millar and Bradshaw 1993). This poverty is compounded by the inability of the residential parent to undertake paid employment due to their primary child care role and the general absence of child care support, including that of the father. Subsequently this poverty trap forces the primary parent to rely upon state financial benefit and coherently to lose employment competencies. This frequently creates a formidable vicious circle of state dependence, and as a consequence of fiscal governmental prioritization establishes powerful economic concerns, (Blair 1997). It would however be an oversimplification to only identify the typical consequences and the two common forms of post separation child care arrangements, namely single parent households with either an engaged (reasonable contact) or disengaged (absent) parent. There are of course other forms of child care paradigms operating in the UK, including the substantial number of children who receive care under the legal responsibility of statute service provision, (Cannan 1992). There are additionally other less documented and researched child care arrangements which are relatively unknown in frequency or phenomenologically understood. Such arrangements include the paradigm of ''shared'' child care in which both parents remain engaged in everyday child care activities, frequently with the child moving between their parents respective homes.

2. The Paradigm of Shared Parenting

Shared parenting is an empowerment paradigm, in which following divorce or separation the mother and father retain a strong, normative and positive parenting role in their child's life. This is normally achieved by the child actually spending substantial amounts of time living and being cared for by each parent in their respective homes. This arrangement has been termed joint physical custody, joint actual custody, time sharing, equal shared parenting or shared parenting, (Equal Shared Parenting In Winconsin 1997, Baker and Townsend 1996). Definitions concerning shared parenting are not precise but include arrangements where a child spends regular amounts of time with both parents and that they are both involved in many aspects of the child's life. A rule of thumb might be anything up from a 30/70 child care split between the two home arrangement, underpinned by proportionate parental empowerment, (Baker and Townsend 1996).

Since the mid 1980's the vehemence for shared parenting has exponentially evolved which has culminated in the development of a range of international divorce and child care law reforms and proposals which have been frequently led by the United States of America, (Children's Rights Council 1997, Equal Shared Parenting in Wisconsin 1997, Law Florida Net 1997, Coalition of Parent Support Inc 1997, Concerned Citizens for Shared Parenting 1997). Caution is required however when reviewing these divorce and child care reforms and proposals as they can relate to rhetoric terminology and vision, or the well organised proposals from active advocates. Both of course assist the shared parenting evolution process but do not represent a second order change from the social and legal norm of one primary home towards the paradigm ''reality'' of shared care. Similarly in the UK, The Children Act 1989, advocates the concepts and practicalities underpinning cooperative child care arrangements but falls short of the presumption of shared parenting for all.

The underlying philosophy of the Children Act 1989 is primarily one of reinforcement of the bonds between both parents and their children via a range of child care orders including, Residence, Shared Residence and Contact. These orders are supported by the concept of Parental Responsibility which clearly states that child care parental responsibilities continue after divorce and are, ''limited only to the extent that any order settles certain concrete issues between the parties'', (The Children Act 1989). The Children Act 1989 additionally offers parents a non interventionist model of child care by supporting families who are able to transform and construct new child care arrangements outside of a legal child care framework. This ''presumption of no order'' is thus juxtaposed with the interventionist "winner takes all" pre Children Act 1989 child care orders and philosophy, which in its terminology of "sole custody" or "care and control", increased the frequency that the "reasonable access" parent would disengage, (Brophy 1989). The philosophy of the Children Act 1989 therefore assumes that the best child care arrangements are based upon a "partnership", in the sense that child care is optimum when shared between the parents, without the need for a legal order, (Simpson et al 1995). The family division courts are however able to apply a range of child care orders specifically related to cooperative parenting when it is viewed as being in the "best interest of the children" to do so. In relation to the concept of shared child care this includes the application of a ''Shared Residence Order'', (a section 8 order) which legally ratifies the sharing of child care, possibly between the two parental homes. The Children Act 1989 states:

   "Where a residence order is made in favour of two or more persons who do not themselves live together, the order may specify the periods during which the child is to live in the different households." (Children Act 1989, s 11(4))

The Children Act 1989 additionally provides guidance and denotes the benefits concerning the application of a Shared Residence Order. The guidelines denote:

   "A shared care order has the advantage of being more realistic in those cases where the child spends considerable amounts of time with both parents and brings with it certain other benefits, and removes any impression that any one parent is good and responsible whereas the other parent is not." (The Children Act 1989 :10-11)

The criteria required for such an order can in reality become a formidable obstacle however and it can easily be argued that unless both parents advocate for such an order then society, the courts and professionals are unlikely to offer substantive support. Coherently Gardener (1993) a child psychiatrist, argues that parent(s) who request such orders are not suitable to operate shared child care due to the possible introduction of negative psychological processes, concluding that most courts would refuse the parents this option. Paradoxically, if both parents did agree with the philosophy of substantive child care involvement than the need for a court order is questionable and in keeping with the non interventionist ideology of the Children Act 1989, would not be actioned. As can be seen in this example The Children Act 1989 therefore falls short of a presumptive shared residence stance as the normal child care arrangement post divorce or separation, accept when privately organised by cooperating parents. It can therefore be hypothesised that the majority of operating shared parenting arrangements will have been developed outside of the Children Act 1989 (section 8 order) framework, possibly being facilitated by the Family Mediation Service. This is a voluntary and independent organisation which assists separating and divorcing parents to formulate decisions concerning their children through the process of negotiation, (Gardener 1994). This mediative process therefore involves both parents who formulate their child care arrangements for themselves instead of handing control of their affairs to a solicitor or the court. During this process the mediator remains impartial and their role is one of facilitating conflict resolution and helping couples to create a shared parenting plan, including arrangements for the care of the child.

As evident from this brief overview the shared parenting paradigm is a complex phenomena which encapsulates a range of legal aspects, psychological human emotions and behaviour, cultural and societal assumptions, child health implications, and the utilisation of mediative models by specialist services to develop a myriad of child care options. It is therefore pertinent to explore these issues to achieve pre-research understanding and to review the reality gap between the elusive shared parenting vision and the UK statistical reality of sole residence and one parent disengagement.

3. Factors militating against and supporting the paradigm of shared parenting

3.1 UK Cultural Norms

Contemporary UK and western cultural norms establish unconscious and powerful gender identity role's which typify the mother as the primary child carer and the father as the secondary parent, with financial provider responsibilities. This premise has evolved as a consequence of a range of societal changes and is typified in the research completed by Bowlby (1965) who formally identified the importance of the parent child relationship in terms of the mother figure. Bowlby proports:-

"For the moment it is sufficient to say that what is believed to be essential for mental health is that an infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother'' Bowlby (1965 :13)

As can be noted in Bowlby's unconscious use of language he prescribes the requirement of the child in terms of a "mothering" metaphor, which it is assumed is different and superior to child care as presented by the term "fathering". This use of language thus establishes the stereotype of the natural and skilled mother and the presumption that the father figure although assisting in the child rearing process could not replace the primary, nurturing and caring mother role. This has subsequently evolved into the "early or tender years doctrine" which endorses the importance of the mother/child relationship, and underpins contemporary UK and Western cultural social norms and gender stereotype roles, (Parental Rights Organisation 1997). These societal expectations have in turn influenced the philosophy underpinning the recent UK social and legal child care systems, which have supported the mother/child relationship as the natural norm. This therefore assumes that the father in any contested parental scenario would need to prove his parental expertise significantly above that of the mother, creating a difficult proposition especially if the child was young. The premise of the early years doctrine therefore provides sustainable support to the ideology that a child requires their mother as the primary residential parent, and that the paradigm of shared parenting although not ruled out is dependent on the residential "mother" supporting such a child arrangement. Evidently if this residential parent was averse to the concept of father contact or shared care, then societies legal and child social support systems would frequently validate this opposition as being in the best interest of the child, who naturally and now ''proven'' by experts is better cared for by their mother. A range of researchers and authors support this general argument and suggest that as a consequence of the early years doctrine that The Children Act 1989 is in ''practice'' heavily biased towards the residential parent, (usually the mother). Subsequently there is little incentive for this primary parent to cooperate with the disempowered non residential parent, (usually the father) because it is recognised that the legal and child support systems will uphold the single residence model, headed by the mother, (McKenzie 1994).

3.2 Parental Socialisation

The qualitative research study conducted by Backett (1987) involving twenty two middle class families identified that the roles of mother and father differed in relation to child care. The study concluded that the major responsibility for child rearing, especially when young, was normally conducted by the mother who was described as having ''certain special features''. To achieve this role the primary carer frequently had a break or reduction in employment hours and matching societal expectations the father became the main financial provider, usually away from the home. The study additionally identified that the social construction of the paternal role was formulated and negotiated through the mother, who by imparting information concerning the child established the father's terms of reference, behaviour and role. Thirdly the research ascertained that the mother was perceived as being potentially more available than the father, for instance even when the father was present the child would firstly go to the mother to satisfy his/her needs. The analysis of the studies results therefore asserted that the mother had considerable hidden power and that the popular belief of the involved father must be seen as something of an illusion. The study conducted by de Singly (1993) additionally provides supportive data to the premise that the father has a secondary role within child care, since he concluded that the father's interventions were rarely actioned independently from the mother. This is juxtaposed with the position of the mother who regularly undertook independent child care responsibilities which was perceived as being her primary ''territory''. These research studies therefore suggest that the role of the father is rarely one of an equal parent within the primary family itself and consequently that the establishment of a shared parenting framework outside of the primary family is likely to be problematic. There are additionally other difficulties which affect the father's ability to enact a valued parental role outside of the primary family due to his previous responsibilities having been expedited by the mother. If following the divorce or separation period the mother refuses to facilitate the father role then due to his lack of child care information or paternal guidance he will be unable to undertake his previous responsibilities or establish a new parental framework. This axiom thus provides a possible explanation for the disengagement process which is compounded by the vicious circle of limited and artificial contact undermining the father's previous role, (Lund 1987).

It can therefore be hypothesised that the shared parenting paradigm is likely to be correlated with the primary family child care climate and that fathers who had normal and thus secondary child care responsibilities within the family climate are unlikely to develop shared parenting aspects. Fathers who had an extensive child care function in the pre divorce or separation period would possibly be able to negotiate a new parental role based upon their previous competencies and knowledge. This later assumption may however be an oversimplification of the phenomena since the research conducted by Kruk (1989) identified an inverse correlation between the father having high child care responsibilities in the primary family and subsequent disengagement following family transformation. Although there may have been possible bias in these results due to the studies self perception methodology which can produce memory errors, the results highlight that the development of a shared parenting paradigm is multifactorial. This suggests that the essence of the initial family dynamics can be a significant factor in enhancing or militating against shared parenting, but that the final outcome is inter related with a gamut of other family transformation phenomena.

3.3 Shared Parenting Role Models and Literature

As portrayed throughout this position paper the paradigm of shared parenting post divorce or separation is statistically an uncommon form of child care arrangement, especially when contrasted with the large numbers of parents who undertake the sole residence and contact formula. It can therefore be hypothesised that parents and children commencing family transformation are likely to perceive the common sole residence model as the norm and are subsequently liable to base their developing child care regimes on these prevalent role models. Societal, professional and familial expectation may additionally enact a powerful lobby to encourage the parents and child to undertake these normal child care arrangements which are antidotally known to the individual's and perceived as appropriate child care options. Even when there are positive examples of shared care arrangements in the local community or known to the parents it is often difficult in the volatile transformation period to understand how these have become established or function, (Morkham 1997). This is compounded by the lacuna of easily understandable literature, aligned data and societal role models which can assist individuals to explore and understand the shared parenting phenomena. This lack of data is however juxtaposed with the wealth of generalist information and media role models which continually presents the sole residence model, the early years doctrine and the mother as the primary parent. Separating parents and children are thus provided with a simplistic understanding of the expected child care arrangement which when copied can quickly become coalesced and limit the development of shared care arrangements.

3.4 The Emotional Effects of Divorce or Separation.

A range of studies have explored the emotional factors which are associated with divorce or separation and there effects upon the parents, (Gardener 1993, Kruk 1989, Simpson et al 1995). Of these a number denote the extreme heightening of emotions which frequently occurs during the transformation period, when normally psychologically well adjusted individuals can become subsumed by powerful negative feelings. Winn (1986) in her narrative research subsequently describes that one of the frequently described negative emotions presented during this period is that of unmitigated anger which can reduce the individual's cognitive rationality, establishing inappropriate mental defence mechanisms, (Lund 1987). The following account therefore typifies how the emotional context of an event can disrupt the participating individuals behaviour and cognition and create a vicious circle of recrimination. Winn (1986) writes:

   "She could be so unreasonable, it seemed to me. She moved out before taking all her things and I worked like buggery packing all her stuff up very carefully so it wouldn't break. She didn't want me to move her, she wanted a friend of hers to do it. So I helped him load up his van and then Claire said I should pay him for doing it! I felt it was up to her and was very angry and resentful" (Winn 1986 : 69)

In relation to adults who are trying to establish a shared parenting format Burrett (1993) offers support to Winn's narrative research and describes the difficulties facing parents who logically wish to develop sustainable child care arrangements but remain victims of their strong negative emotions. Discussing these dynamics she states:

   "…you are understandably pre-occupied with your own position. Recovering from a sense of failure, a lost love and a damaged self image… Some people get stuck with hurt feelings and destructive attitudes, for quite a time, and these divorce ghosts have a way of reappearing, interfering with sensible communication between parents about their children''. (Burrett 1993 :27)

Utilising this insight into human relationships, it can therefore be proposed that the establishment of a shared parenting paradigm is dependent upon the ability of the parents to control their normative negative emotions, especially those of anger and aggression. Burrett (1993) suggests that this necessitates the redefining of rules of engagement and interaction when discussing the care of the child with their former partner. To facilitate this new parent vis-a-vis old partner climate of interaction Morkham (1997) advocates the utilization of the family mediation service which via the mediation process can establish new models of personal parental interaction and emotional control. Although requiring further research it is therefore hypothesized that the shared parenting paradigm is correlated with the parental management of normative emotional reactions and the establishment of new rules of engagement. It is further proposed that without mediative support parents will be unable to develop strategies to manage the normal divorce acrimony climate and subsequently that shared parenting will be problematic to establish or subsequently fail.

3.5 The Effects of Labelling and The Child Support Act 1991

The Child Support Act 1991 relates to the financial provision for children post divorce or separation and stereotypically characterises the parents by the emotive terms of residential or absent carer. The act additionally predisposes that the residential parent will be the mother and that the absent parent will be the father. Following these gender identity roles and societal expectations the responsibilities of each parent are thus assumed to relate to primary carer and disengaged financial provider. The Child Support Act 1991 is therefore juxtaposed in both terminology and philosophy with the Children Act 1989 which in its terms of reference establishes the ideology of parental responsibility and continued ''holistic'' involvement. In contrast the Child Support Act 1991 infers by it's labelling terminology and ethos that the financial support of the child is valued higher than a shared care arrangements or parental contact. The application of the financial formula can additionally deter the residential parent from allowing more than 104 nights residential contact with the absent parent as this can induce financial penalties. Similarly the committed ''contact'' parent could be providing significant shared care, but unless this transcends the 104 night watershed then this parent will have hidden but extra child care costs. The Child Support Act 1991 has additionally increased parental acrimony by applying a complex fiscal system with little regard to the myriad of child care practices and financial arrangements which may have been previously agreed, (Pellman 1994). Although requiring further research it can subsequently be hypothesised that the implementation of the Child Support Act 1991 has militated against the paradigm of shared care, upholding the present status quo of single parent families headed by the mother with coherent father disengagement.

3.6 Social Economic Status

The research completed by Simpson et al (1995) concerning father engagement identified a positive correlation between the participants social class, income and employment and the ensuing levels of post separation contact with their children, (n=91). The results concluded that fathers who were unemployed were significantly at risk of parental disengagement or limited child contact than those who were employed. The research team tendered possible explanations for this phenomena suggesting that the psychological effects of unemployment may reduce the individual's self-worth, as well as the inability to finance child contact. The research data further distinguished between manual and non-manual workers identifying that manual workers were more likely to have disengagement or limited child contact arrangements in contrast to non-manual fathers. Explanations for these results therefore portray a complex and multi faceted phenomena incorporating the effects of child financial support as a proportion of salary, the inability of low waged fathers to establish a second home, and the varying levels of understanding concerning father engagement. Although requiring further research it can therefore be hypothesized that shared parenting and parental engagement is dependent upon adequate finance, flexible employment conditions, psychological parental health and an understanding of the phenomena.

3.7 Judicial Conservatism and Child Case Law

As denoted, the Children Act 1989 supports the premise of shared parenting, however in reality the family courts are unlikely to ratify a shared residence order unless there is primary parent agreement and that it is in the best interest of the child. This powerful legal stance has evolved as a consequence of preceding child case law and there have been a number of cases which are significant in this area. In Re H (A Minor) (Shared Residence) (1994) (Court of Appeal; Purchas LJ and Cazalet J), the unmarried parents of a 14-year old boy had a de facto shared care arrangement until the mother stopped contact. Following the fathers application, the Court of Appeal made a contact and parental responsibility order in favour of the father but refused to ratify a shared residence order which it viewed as being only applicable in exceptional cases. The case additionally questioned the effect of establishing two competing homes for the child, suggesting that such an arrangement would cause confusion, stress, and be contrary to the paramount concept of the welfare of the child, (Cazalet 1993). Similarly in J v J (A Minor) (Joint Care and Control) (1991) it was indicated that there would need to be a very strong case supporting shared parenting before a court would confirm a shared care arrangement. Again these prerequisites are supported in the cases of Riley v Riley (1986) and S v S (Minors) (Care and Control) (1990) which as per the previous child law rulings confirmed the premise that a child will become unsettled if moving between two homes and that a residence and contact model is preferential. This primary home and stability ruling has thus become a significant legal presumption which although not supported by research has established considerable judicial conservatism concerning the ratification of shared residence orders and shared parenting.

Countervailed against the residence and contact assumption, there have however been a limited range of orders which have questioned the temerity of the single home ''child stability'' argument. Judge Callman in, Re A (A Minor) (Shared Residence Orders) (1993) for example sanctioned a residence order in favour of each parent, with the aim of reducing parental acrimony. This ruling was accepted as being in the best interest of the child as it prevented arguments between the parents, and ensured that, "neither party will have any rights during the period of the other". The concept of shared child care was additionally supported in the case of A v A (Minors) (Shared Residence Order), when Judges Butler Sloss and Connell advocated that shared residence orders although unusual should not depend upon exceptional circumstances. They further argued that the Court of Appeals assumption in the case of Re H (A Minor) (Shared Residence) (1994) that shared care arrangements should only be made in exceptional circumstances would now appear to have overstated the case. They additionally concluded that the issuing of shared care orders was dependent upon the assessment of the circumstances as provided by the welfare check list in, section 1 (3). This suggests that the merits of each case requires professional assessment, creating a climate of facts rather than judicial prejudice. This judgement therefore over rules the previous case law, namely Riley v Riley (1986) 2 FLR 429 and Re H (A Minor) (1994). Baker and Townsend (1996), Conway (1994) and Douglas (1994) conclude from these judgements that a range of child care principles will probably be evident before a court order in favour of shared residence would be actioned. These include:

  a) Although not exceptional the establishment of a shared order should be viewed as unusual and dependent upon the judges discretion concerning the specific merits of the case.

  b) The order must clearly uphold the best interests of the child as guided by the welfare checklist, section 1(3).

  c) Shared residence orders are unlikely to be enacted by a court if there is acrimony between the parents which could predispose child confusion or destabilisation.

  d) Shared residence is dependent upon a de facto shared agreement already being in existence.

  e) The parents must live close to each other and the practicalities for a shared care approach can be achieved.

As can be noted, the legal ratification concerning shared residence is subject to a plethora of conflicting case law and debate that militates against or supports this child care paradigm. Due to the dynamic nature of this phenomena it can therefore be hypothesized that there is inconsistency within the shared parenting rulings, dependent upon the court, judge, legal debate and judicial conservatism.

3.8 The Illusionary Effect of Parental Responsibility

One of the major philosophical tenants underpinning the Children Act 1989 is the concept of ''parental responsibility'' which clearly advocates that both parents continue to have involvement in the child's care post divorce or separation. Cretney (1993) having explored this assumption however concludes that parental responsibility can produce the effect of ''illusionary'' non residential parental participation which is easily over ridden by the residential parent. An example highlighting this argument could involve the child's school which under the guidance of parental responsibility would be tasked with keeping both parents (as equals) informed of the child's progress. The school in reality is however likely to differentiate the child's carers as the residential and secondary contact parent, favouring information and empowerment to the primary carer. If this is supported by a court order confirming the parents status, then again the school is likely to address all child issues as consistent with this legal standing. The reality could therefore denote that if the residential parent informed the school that no contact is to be made with the contact parent then the school is in a dilemma between the perceived role of the primary parent and the concept of equal empowerment as denoted in the parental responsibility principle. If this hypothetical but realistic scenario is broadened by including medical services, community support agencies, the child's friends and so on, parental marginalisation may quickly occur, (Price and Pioske 1994). Cretney's argument thus provides further understanding of the parental disengagement process and denotes a powerful family transformation dynamic which partly explains why the paradigm of shared parenting remains illusory in the UK.

4. Summary

This paper does not suggest that the factors which have been identified fully explore the paradigm of shared parenting, however they do represent a brief overview of the complex nature of the phenomena. The presented data additionally provokes a plethora of unanswered questions and hypotheses which require further empirical research if an evolving phenomenological understanding of shared parenting is to ensue. It is therefore advocated that research into the paradigm of shared parenting is undertaken as a priority, to explore:

1. The essence of family transformation through divorce or separation and the factors which enhance or militate against shared care child arrangements.

2. The effects of shared child care arrangements as perceived by families who have enacted the shared care paradigm.

3. The aligned professional and legal perceptions concerning the shared parenting paradigm.

4. Why shared care arrangements are not prevalent in the UK.

5. Policy recommendations to facilitate the assessment and assistance to parents who wish to undertake shared parenting arrangements post separation or divorce.
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