By Daniel Hunter

Half of UK couples believe they would be better off financially if they shared their parental leave following the birth of their child, according to new research by national law firm Irwin Mitchell.

The survey of 2,000 working couples comes just one month before new laws allow parents to share leave and also reveals that two thirds of men would be happy to be a stay-at-home dad.

Shared Parental Leave rules allow those whose children are expected to be born or adopted from 5 April will be able to share up to 50 weeks of parental leave between mum and dad during the first year after a baby is born/child is adopted. Previously, the majority of dads had two weeks paternity leave while mums could have up to 12 months maternity leave and nine months paid maternity leave.

So far there has been uncertainty about the popularity of the new laws. Each year 285,000 working couples are expected to be eligible, however the Government predicts that just 5,700 couples will take advantage in the first year.

However, according to Irwin Mitchell’s in-depth study, thousands more businesses than expected will need to prepare and manage the impact of the rules over the coming 12 months.

Glenn Hayes, an employment partner at national law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: “Shared parental leave is one of the most significant changes to flexible working rights but it is still uncertain how many families are expected to take up the new right. These figures suggest that the appetite for doing so could be much stronger than what the Government currently expects.

“These figures may take businesses by surprise and it is vital that they deal effectively with what is an extremely complex piece of legislation.

"It is important that employees start their conversations with their employers as early as possible in relation to shared leave, but it is vital that companies deal with the requests in the correct manner.

“Many businesses have been slow to prepare themselves for this important change and in doing so have left themselves exposed open to the risk of mishandling requests and inviting claims for discrimination."

The majority of men (66%) who responded to the survey said that they would like to be the main carer during the baby’s first year and 71% of women said that if they had a baby, they would like to share their leave.

Four in 10 say this is down to them wanting to be a bigger part of their child’s life than they would be if they worked full-time while 19 per cent worry they will miss out on too much of their child’s life otherwise.
Sixty-one per cent claimed they would be happy to become a stay-at-home dad, even if it had a detrimental effect on their career in the future.

Highlighting the financial considerations involved, more than a third of men said shared parental leave would be the most sensible option for them as their wife or girlfriend earns more than them.

Nine out of 10 couples where the woman in the main breadwinner said that they worry how they would cope financially if the mother were to take their full maternity allowance.

Glenn added: “Shared parental leave rules are designed to encourage more dads to play an active role in the upbringing of their children, but the financial situation in the home will be the greatest influence on who takes it up.

“Shared parental leave provides greater flexibility for couples to manage their household income, but the flipside is that many organisations will struggle to deal with the rules.”