Today is the start of shared parental leave – a new law that will allow couples to split childcare responsibilities more evenly.
Under the rules, which were first put forward by the Liberal Democrats while in coalition, up to 50 weeks of leave can be shared between two parents. This is additional to the compulsory initial two weeks of leave for new mothers.
It is a major step forward for men hoping to spend time looking after their newborns – previous rules on paternity leave were much stricter and did not allow mothers and fathers to take time off together.
Concerns have been raised that the changes will be bad for business and create considerable problems for employers, with the Institute of Directors describing it as a “nightmare” when the changes were first announced in 2013.
"The proposed system is considerably more complex and unwieldy than the current laws and employers will - once again - have to absorb the cost of adapting and implementing this new system,” commented Alexander Ehmann, deputy director of policy at the organisation.
But according to Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the change is important for creating a more equal system for men and women.
"To build a fairer society, the Liberal Democrats want to tear down the barriers that stop people reaching their full potential,” he said.
"For too long, mums have been told their place is at home with their child, while dads return to work. I want parents to choose for themselves how to balance work and family."
So what exactly will the new changes mean for everyone involved? Here's what you need to know:
- An estimated 285,000 new couples will be eligible to share leave each year, according to the government
- Leave can be taken in one lump or split into sections, with periods of work in between. This pattern must be agreed with an employer with eight weeks notice.
- Parents will be able to take their time off at the same time or separately
- 37 of the weeks taken off can be paid at £139.58 per week, or 90 per cent of average weekly wage.
- The time spent off has to be taken between the baby’s birth and first birthday, or within the first year of adoption