COUPLES expecting a child will be among the first parents eligible to take advantage of shared parental leave rights.

The new rules, which apply to couples whose babies are due from next April, will allow parents to choose whether they want to share the mother’s maternity leave. Shared parental leave can be taken at the same time so a couple would be able to be at home together for up to half a year following the birth of their child.

it is hoped the changes in how maternity leave can be used will kick start a culture change in workplaces where fathers feel more confident to ask for time off for childcare.

Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson said: “From April next year, mums and adopters will have real choice about when they return to work, dads will have more time to bond with their children and employers will benefit from lower staff turnover and having a workforce that is more flexible and motivated.”

Under the new system a pregnant woman will continue to have access to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of pay, but from April 5 working families will have the option to share the leave equally and more flexibly.

A free online guide to the changes for employers is available at