13th November 2012 - The government has announced a system of shared parental leave in order to encourage more women back into the workplace and to persuade more fathers to take time off to look after their children. How will the system work? Read our FAQs.
Shared parental leave is a system in which a mother can hand over part of her maternity leave to a husband or partner so that he can spend more time caring for their child.
What's the situation now?
Under current rules, employed mothers are entitled to a maximum of 52 weeks maternity leave after giving birth and fathers get up to two weeks statutory paternity leave.
The rules were altered last year allowing fathers and mothers to share some of the 52 weeks leave, with the father being allowed to take up to six months after the baby is 20 weeks old.
What will happen in the future?
Employed mothers will still be entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave. However, working parents in England, Scotland and Wales will have much greater flexibility about how they ‘mix and match’ their leave. They may take it in turns or take it together, providing it does not exceed 52 weeks in total.
Mothers will have to take the first two weeks off work after the birth of their child as a recovery period. Women who are manual workers must take four weeks off. After that they will be free to return to work if they wish to and hand some or all of the remaining leave to their husband or partner.
For example, the mother could take the first eight months, with the father taking the remaining four months; or the mother could return to work for a period in the middle of the year with the father taking care of the child at that time; or the parents could choose to both stay at home together with the child, for up to six months.
Parents will be expected to give their employers eight weeks' notice of their intention to take flexible parental leave.
Paternity leave is to remain at two weeks but will be reviewed in 2018.
When might the new system start?
Flexible parental leave will begin in 2015.
The government intends to legislate for the changes in 2014.
Why are the changes being made?
The government believes the changes will allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their children and help mothers return to work when they want to. The aim is that women will face less of a ‘career penalty’ for taking an extensive period of time off.
Announcing the plans, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "Our current system of maternity leave is antiquated and out-of-step with the wishes of modern parents who want much greater flexibility in how they look after their children.
"Reform is long overdue and the changes we are making will shatter the perception that women have to be the primary care-givers. In the future, both mothers and fathers will be able to take control of how they balance those precious first months with their child and their careers."
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