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father and baby

Making Shared Parental Leave work for your family

Back in December last year (which feels about 10 years ago), I took one month off work as Shared Parental Leave. I'm a rarity in the UK. According to law firm EMV, 661,000 mothers and 221,000 fathers took maternity and paternity leave between April 2016 and March 2017. Over the same period 8,700 new parents used the scheme - fewer than 1.%.

Most fathers don't take it for financial reasons. Shared Parental Leave entitles parents to share up to one year off work and eight and a half months of statutory pay, following the arrival of their child. A study by Working Families, found that of the 48% of fathers who would not take up shared parental leave, a third said it was because they couldn't afford to. But could it work for you?

How does it work?

Shared Parental Leave means you can share a maximum of 50 weeks of parental leave with your partner. You’re also allowed to share 37 weeks of pay with your partner. If your employer agrees, you can break it into three chunks, so you can effectively take turns. This makes it much easier to find a way of making it work for you.

The requirements for Shared Parental Leave are the same as for Statutory Parental Leave. You need to be either the biological father, adopting the child, or the mother’s partner. In terms of your employer, you need to have been working for them for at least 26 continuous weeks, by the end of the 15th week before your due date, or the end of the week when you’re told you’re matched with your child for adoption (for UK adoptions).

For many families, having a parent off work can really stretch a household budget. If you plan to take Shared Parental Leave, speak to your employer about how much you'll be getting and work out a budget. There are plenty of free activities you can take your child to, but you'll still need to cover your bills and essentials. It's worth thinking about it well ahead and saving up some extra cash to help get you through.

Great experience

For any new fathers thinking of taking the time off work, I would say that if you can make it work, you won't regret it. I got to spend some time with my daughter at a unique moment in her life. I also got some perspective on what it was like for my partner to care for her during the previous ten months when she was on leave. My relationship with both is much stronger as a result.

I would also like to add, that it was nothing like I'd expected. I had grand plans of going to meet friends during the day, taking her to the zoo, the park, coffee shops…I was planning to catch up on my reading and writing while she slept…Get her to say 'papa'…It didn't work out quite like that. I managed to bring her out for lunch with a friend once and I was an hour late, she fell asleep as soon we arrived at the zoo and I didn't read anything other than baby websites. She said ‘papa’ in time for Christmas though!

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