Dispatches: Sharing Mum and Dad, Channel 4

Baroness Butler-Sloss gives her views
I've finally got around to watching the Channel 4 Dispatches programme 'Sharing Mum and Dad', that was broadcast on Monday.

The programme "follows presenter Tim Lovejoy, a divorced father of two, as he investigates the current situation surrounding shared parenting following divorce or separation", with particular reference to the proposed 'shared parenting presumption'.

The programme presents as an 'ideal' a case in which a child shares her time equally with her parents, spending alternate weeks with each. However, such an arrangement is not, of course, attainable, or even desirable, in most cases, depending as it does upon a number of factors, including the ability of the parents to agree matters, the parents each being able to afford suitable accommodation, the proximity of the parents and, of course, the child or children being happy with it.

Brief reference is made to an on-line survey carried out by Dispatches, in which 'more than a thousand' took part. A 'staggering' 90% of respondents said that they thought family law needed updating with regard to parental separation. Now, I don't know how the survey was conducted, but anyone who has any experience of the family law 'debate' will know that fathers' rights groups shout the loudest, and that as soon as they get wind of anything like this, they will direct their supporters to it in droves, so how representative the survey is of the views of society as a whole is not clear.

Lovejoy says that parents are pitted against each other by solicitors and the legal system, although there is no mention of the fact that these days the vast majority of family lawyers adopt a constructive non-adversarial approach, and actually try to discourage conflict, which has usually begun long before either party sets foot in a solicitor's office.

Lovejoy interviews various people on both sides of the shared parenting debate, although thankfully he avoids some of the more hysterical voices. The interviewees include a politician (former Children's Minister Tim Loughton MP, who supports the shared parenting presumption), Jeff Botterill of McKenzie friends and 'shared parenting specialists' Family Law Decisions and Baroness Butler-Sloss, who opposes the presumption. As has already been reported, Baroness Butler-Sloss makes the point that, contrary to the view of many, the presumption will not of course result in 50:50 sharing of children in all cases.

Lovejoy himself clearly supports the presumption, stating that the new legislation "will hopefully change the way society views the roles of separated mums and dads in the lives of their children". However, he accepts that a lot of parents make the mistake of being more occupied with their rights, rather than with the rights of the children. The danger, of course, is that the new legislation may make this worse, rather than better.

At only twenty-seven minutes long, the programme necessarily skims over a very complex subject,  but I thought that on the whole it presented a reasonably balanced view of the issues involved in arrangements for children after separation. It did not do so, however, regarding the arguments surrounding the shared parenting presumption. There was no discussion about why the presumption might actually be a bad thing, and no mention of the fact that it was rejected by the Family Justice Review.

We all want better outcomes for children after their parents separate. The shared parenting presumption may be a step in that direction, but it may also be a step backwards.

The programme will continue to be available to view for the next 28 days, here.


  1. John,

    I thought the programme was interesting in that the one family featured had a 50/50 agreement that was working. This arrangement is common in other countries so I'm not sure why it is considered such a dreadful concept here.

    Isn't Butler-Sloss in Coleridge's Marriage Foundation? She is long past her sell by date and as for the other contributors, words fail me. What on earth is a "shared parenting specialist?"

    The main point missed in this programme is that there is actually nothing on the table that is likely to make any difference to anything in practice.

    1. Yes, Butler-Sloss is a patron of the Marriage Foundation.

      I agree with your last point, as I think I've said here before.


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