WITH attitudes to modern family life changing, Shared Parental Leave (ShPL) is becoming more popular among new parents. Although take up is still considerably low, progressive employers are increasingly giving their employees the option – and the armed forces is no exception.
The military’s occupational shared parental leave and pay scheme gives regular and reserve personnel flexibility to share time off work in the first year after their child is born or placed with them for adoption. ShPL can be split in any number of ways: you can take it in turns, do half and half, or be off together. The maximum amount available is 50 weeks, not 52, as the mother must take the first two weeks following birth as compulsory maternity leave.
“Units should actively encourage their personnel to use it and all unit HR staff are aware of the policy and available to give advice,” said Maj Paul Lamont, SO2 service policy.
“Ensure that you have communicated with your chain of command and worked out the timings, financial implications and the potential effects it may have on career courses, potential deployments and monthly bills.”
We spoke to four families who have gone down the ShPL route…
Dominika & James Stevens
Both serving in the army and they have twin boys, Jenson and Dexter
“James wanted the same opportunity to look after his children as servicewomen do on maternity leave. When the policy on ShPL was published around the same time that we were expecting our twins, James applied to take six months off with me returning to work after the mandatory two weeks.
“Our decision worked for us but was met with surprise from others. I had been in my new unit fewer than six months and they had never had to deal with it, not least because the policy was new. However, my chain of command could not have been more accommodating, working with James’ unit to ensure the process was followed.
“The biggest problem we encountered was the mis-match of hospital and MOD policy, which has now been rectified. I wasn’t allowed to go past 38 weeks but my return to work date could not be changed. As a result, we had to use two weeks’ annual leave before the boys started nursery.
“These formalities aside, we feel that ShPL is an amazing opportunity. The bond James and the boys have is undeniably due to him caring for them in the first months of their lives. I would advise expectant parents to embrace it and enjoy their time with their babies.”
Michelle & Sam Scott
Both serving in the army and they have a daughter, Charlotte
“Once we knew I was pregnant we wanted to live together as a family and considered one of us leaving the army. We stumbled across ShPL and it seemed to be the solution. We started the application to share 12 months, applying for six months each over the same dates.
“The process seemed simple, but it wasn’t. Both chains of command were supportive, but no one knew what ShPL entailed. People spent more time persuading me to take 12 months’ maternity leave rather than helping us. If we had not been so driven, I think we would have given up. Sam and I muddled through the paperwork, but eventually had to ask the occupational health team for assistance. Thankfully, they were very helpful.
“It was eventually accepted and was the best solution until three months in when I decided that I didn’t want to return to work. Taking ShPL meant that unlike straightforward maternity leave, I was required to give 12 months’ notice – it was very upsetting.
“We altered our plan with Sam going back to work earlier and me taking unpaid parental leave – I returned
to work when our daughter was nine-months-old.
“Despite all this, I would still recommend ShPL. I’d encourage couples to speak to someone face-to-face about options. If we’d known what we do now, our application would have been very different.”
Sally & Andy Young
Sally is in the army, Andy ex-royal navy and they have sons Oliver, four and George, two
“We’d both had a very busy few years with deployments and I had suffered with postnatal depression after Oliver was born. We knew we needed time out to reconnect as a family. When we found out I was pregnant again, we decided to apply for ShPL and take three months concurrently.
“My chain of command were happy; they knew I would be back earlier if I took ShPL rather than maternity leave. With my husband’s, there was a lot of: ‘we’re too busy’, ‘you’ll put undue pressure on your colleagues’. We requested November to January inclusive to minimise impact over Christmas with Andy in a non-operational role.
“The process for the pregnant service person was unclear and we felt that the system was set up for the woman to be non-serving. After a few back and forth forms we were granted ShPL and took three months concurrently after my six months’ maternity leave to go on a round-the-world trip in a camper van!
“I’d highly recommend ShPL to other families. Just keep going back to the clerks and ask as many questions as you can. It will work out.”
Simone & Alec Redfearn
Both serving in the army and they have a son, Arthur, who is nine months old
“We looked at ShPL as we wanted time with our son so he has a strong relationship with both of us. Plus, I didn’t want to take loads of time off due to my job. I’m staying where I am in 32 Regiment RA, but my husband has just started his new posting.
“My battery commander and commanding officer were both very supportive. When he was posted, the new unit were happy to uphold it.
“It was very easy and we didn’t encounter any obstacles. In the end I took 19 weeks and Alec took the last seven. We would 100 per cent encourage others to apply, even if it’s just for a few weeks.
“It helps with going back to work if you know your baby is with the other parent and not in childcare, and it’s so good for babies to have a bond with both parents.”
How to apply
Making an application can be complex, so here are our tips:
- Start by reading the full eligibility criteria in the JSP
- Talk to your unit admin team/civilian employer at the earliest opportunity – it’s advisable to have an informal chat before making a decision
- Get your paperwork in as early as possible
- Keep an eye on your payslips to ensure that relevant changes have been made and notify your admin team if you spot any issues
- To find out more go to JSP 760 Chapter 27 at gov.uk, or contact AFF Employment, Training, Money & Allowances Specialist Laura Lewin at email@example.com