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Shared parenting is not necessarily an equal share

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The introduction of a new bill that is aimed at enhancing the rights of children to stay in contact with both of their parents after a divorce may have raised unrealistic expectations, according to a retired judge. Parents in Manchester who are going through a divorce and who believe that the changes to the 1989 Children's Act will guarantee them equal access to their child should be aware that judges will still hand down rulings that they believe are in the best interests of the child.

The Shared Parenting Bill is the Government's proposal to ensure that, after a divorce, the parent who is not the main care giver of the child is still able to be involved in the child's life. Sanctions for failing to adhere to court orders can include the confiscation of documents such as passports or driving licences and even being subjected to movement restrictions, such as curfews. The bill has been criticised by a number of organisations, including the Law Society.

Baroness Butler-Sloss, a former president of the Family Division of the High Court, expressed her opinion that shared parenting did not necessarily mean an equal share. While she felt that all parents should be involved with their children, they also needed to be sensible in how this was managed. She said that Family Court has a responsibility to make decisions based on what it considered was the most beneficial for the children, and for them to spend an equal amount of time with each parent would often not be realistic or desirable. 

Family court is tasked with ensuring that the best interests of the child is paramount and has extensive leeway when making rulings regarding access arrangements. A solicitor with an in depth knowledge of the factors affecting the judgements may be able to offer valuable advice to a client who is involved in a child custody dispute.