Shared Parenting Information Group (SPIG) UK

- promoting responsible shared parenting after separation and divorce -

Post divorce parenting - rethinking shared residence

Arthur Baker, Lecturer in social policy , Barnsley College, and
Peter Townsend, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Teeside.

Draft of article which was published in: Child and Family Law Quarterly, Vol 8, No 3, 1996, p 217
(Reproduced by kind permission of the publishers and authors)



The standard model for post separation / divorce parenting is sole residence. There are signs of a growing enthusiasm for shared residence, particularly among non resident parents. Whilst the Children Act 1989 makes some provision for shared residence, it is still very rare as a court ordered outcome. Opposition to shared residence is examined in terms of judicial conservatism, social work practice, received notions of sex / gender roles and feminist thinking. Article then seeks to examine the debate between supporters of the sole residence and shared residence models. Research is reviewed. The stability and conflict issues are examined. Authors argue that it is time for sole residence model to be more closely scrutinised and current attitudes to shared residence rethought.


Shared residence is the idea that, following divorce or separation, mothers and fathers should retain a strong positive parenting role in their children's lives, with the children actually spending substantial amounts of time living with each parent. Sometimes this arrangement has been called joint physical, joint actual custody, time sharing or shared parenting. It is to be differentiated from the pre-Children Act 1989 concept of joint legal custody or the post-Children Act concept of shared parental responsibility. Definitions of shared residence are not precise but include arrangements where children spend significant amounts of time living at the homes of both parents. In American divorce research, living arrangements are categorised as joint physical custody when the child lives with one of the parents from 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the time (1). A rule of thumb might be that anything up from a 30 / 70 split could be called shared residence. It is important to distinguish shared residence from notions of reasonable contact / access / visitation with one parent, and sole residence with the other. Supporters of shared residence see the whole idea of contact / access / visitation as a 'demeaning, alienating, and artificial concept' (2). Enthusiasm for shared residence seems to be growing, particularly amongst non-resident parents, usually fathers. Although it is difficult to estimate the figure, many separating couples may already be making shared residence arrangements privately after separation. This article seeks to look at current enthusiasm for shared residence, to examine the obstacles and opposition to the concept, and to attempt an overview and analysis of the current discussion.

next section - Current enthusiasm

SPIG Home Page