The Reporter
Issue 493, 27 October 2003
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Shared residence is not a magic solution


Sharing the children’s time 50:50 after a divorce might seem like a fair arrangement for parents, but Leeds researchers have found that young people themselves do not always endorse this view. The findings from the ESRC enduring families project come as Fathers4Justice step up their campaign for mandatory shared residence and as the Australian Government consider implementing automatic 50:50 residence on divorce.

Bren Neale, Jennifer Flowerdew and Carol Smart of the centre for research on family, kinship and childhood re-interviewed 60 children and young people who had been part of two earlier studies on post-divorce family life. Half of these young people had been ‘shared’ between their parents and their experiences of this arrangement varied widely.

Dr Flowerdew said: “For the children, the key to good shared residence was flexibility, supportive and co-operative parenting, and a sense of belonging in both homes. Under these conditions, young people were very positive about their families.”
In these cases, the benefits of moving between two homes outweighed the inconvenience, the researchers found, and children had a say in how things would evolve over time. But where the needs of the parents took priority over the needs of the children, things were less positive.

Professor Smart said: “Some children felt their parents wanted 50 per cent of their time only because they could not tolerate the idea that the other parent had more. Rather than feeling loved, they could come to feel that they were possessions to be fought over.” Where shared residence is rigidly imposed upon young people, dissatisfaction can also begin to grow. An acceptable arrangement for primary school children can become irksome for teenagers seeking greater independence from their parents, the research showed.

Dr Neale said: “Where shared residence is legally imposed on families, the potential for long-term problems may be magnified. This makes the growing lobby for automatic shared residence after divorce all the more worrying.

“Shared residence is not necessarily a magic solution. It isn’t yet the norm in England and Wales but before we drift too far in that direction we need to learn from the young people who know what it is like to live under a dual residence regime.”


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