Shared Care & the child support formula
Child support & Shared Care - overview
Should child support be linked to access?
The "Fair Shares" formula (copy of Hansard)
Issues with the "Shared Care" formula (1998)
Related topic - Case Studies - anomalies in the reformed shared-care formula
Related topic - Letter from Baroness Hollis, minister for child support
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Child support & Shared Care - overview

This article skims the surface - the details are in the linked articles.

"Shared care" versus "shared parenting"

The aim here is to separate these two terms, in order to consider what is relevant to child support and what isn't. There probably isn't a generally agreed definition of either of them, but it is important be reasonably clear here what is being discussed.

Shared parenting covers the whole topic of parenting in the widest sense by both separated parents. So it may (and probably should) including sharing the influence of a child's progress at school, support for hobbies, general emotional support and being "someone to turn to", etc. It typically also covers shared care.

Shared care is used here is a very narrow sense - it refers to each of the separated parents having the children with them part of the time, so that direct expenditure is shared too. In other words, it is the term used when discussing what the child support formula should be. (The term "parent with care" is a financial services term, not a parenting term. "Shared care" in the discussions about the reformed scheme is about adjustments to the formula, not about parental rights & responsibilities).

Shared parenting

Although this is an important topic, it is not directly within the scope of this web site. The references below identify some resources covering this topic.

It is probably fair to say that the UK is poorly placed in terms of the law, skills, biases, and various cultural factors, to support shared parenting. But if this were improved, it would have a major benefit when implementing child support "downstream", both because the emotional issues would be less, and because shared care would increase.

This topic is not discussed much more here, because it is out of scope and because other places discuss it with much more authority, not because it isn't important. It is worth making the point that the bias in the UK towards mothers being the primary "caring parent" after separation isn't entirely because of the biological differences between mothers & fathers. The numbers are different in other countries, suggesting that there are political or legal or socio-cultural aspects which could be changed more easily than changing human biology! See the reference on the difference in the proportion of custodial fathers in the USA compared with the UK.

What relevance is shared care to child support?

Simple - it really falls out of the definition (see above) of what shared care means in general discussions about child support. Child support is about separated parents paying for the upbringing of their children, and this payment can be direct (because they have the child with them) or indirect (typically via the other parent).

Shared care means that both parents spend directly on the children. This suggests that the formula should take this into account, although some disagree. Since that link discusses the topic more, it won't be discussed in detail here.

How does the Social Security system interact with shared care?

Also simple - badly! In fact, the combination of the way that social security fails to cater properly for shared care, plus the flaws in the shared care features of both the current and the reformed child support schemes, means that the financial impact of both on separated parents can result in some bizarre and unfair consequences that can impact one or other parent for many years.

The Case Studies - anomalies in the reformed shared-care formula describe many of these issues graphically. A slightly simplified version of these formed part of the Families Need Fathers evidence to the Social Security Select Committee at the White Paper stage of the CSA reform. (These were my attempt to reduce the complex issues that FNF wanted to express into an easily digestible form).

Will this matter in future?

Yes. There are so many reasons (see resources below) for separated parents to share the parenting of their children, for the children's sake as well as the parents', that it is important to have a child support formula which caters properly for what should be an increasingly common situation.

The anomalies in the formula have been justified partly because the administrative cost of sorting them out isn't worth incurring for the relatively small proportion of cases that are significantly affected. If the proportion increases, this justification will diminish even more.

A fair shared care formula should be relatively easy to devise. After all, the formula for the case where one parent is absent (sic) has to be based on assumptions about the costs of children to a parent caring alone, and what is sensible for a parent without care of the children to pay. It should not require much extra analysis to cater for the case where each parent is, for a time, the absent (sic) parent.

I have been doing such analysis for years. The results are available on this web site, the FNF web site, and Hansard. I have been refining the proposal in the light of criticisms, and I am developing a spreadsheet which will enable comments such as "there is a cost to a parent with care even when the child is with the other parent" to be taken into account. Here it is, although it needs a lot more development & testing.

Basic spreadsheet for a fair adjustment to the formula for shared care.


[1] Some resources about shared parenting:

Families Need Fathers

Shared Parenting Information Group

Equal Parenting Party (no longer a political party)

The Association For Shared Parenting

Shared Care - NCH (The National Childrens Home charity needs carers of all ages and from all backgrounds, to spend some time caring for a disabled child)

[2] The proportion of custody by fathers in the UK (perhaps 7%-8%) is about half of that in the USA (14.9%):

"Child Support for Custodial Mothers and Fathers 1997"
Issued October 2000
U.S.Department of Commerce
Economics and Statistics Administration
U.S.Census Bureau

Page last updated: 22 September, 2006 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003