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LIZ TRINDER, Professor, School of Law, Exeter University
There has been a significant rise in the use of shared residence or ‘shared care' over the last decade in England and elsewhere. The aim of this article is to summarise the key messages for practitioners from a wealth of recent research studies on the outcomes of shared residence: it looks at numbers of shared residence arrangements, family profiles, durability, satisfaction and the impact of shared residence on child well being.
At the start it is important to sound a note of caution about the evidence base. There are some very clear and persuasive messages emerging from recent research but there remain large gaps in knowledge. Almost everything we know about shared care is based on overseas research with no large-scale UK studies. Research to date has also been dominated by the views of mothers and fathers although parents are clearly not objective reporters. With a few notable (and small-scale) exceptions we have only a limited understanding of children's experiences of shared care. Studies have also generally failed to distinguish between different types of shared residence families, ‘lumping' together co-operative and litigating families into a single ‘shared care' group. This is a problem as there are very different types of shared residence. As McIntosh and others note ‘Litigating and high conflict families who enter substantially shared care arrangements are different from cooperative parents who self select into shared parenting. They enter on a different track, and stay on that track by different means, with different outcomes' (J McIntosh, B Smyth, M Kelaher, Y Wells and C Long, Post-separation parenting arrangements and developmental outcomes for infants and children (Attorney-General's Department, 2010) at p 104).
Finally, it is important to be aware that the terms ‘shared residence' or ‘shared care' can be used to cover a very broad range of timeshare arrangements. There is very little research just on 50/50 ‘equal time' arrangements. More commonly, researchers define shared care as anything from 30% to 70% of overnights with each parent.
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