Shared Parental Leave (SPL) has been in place since April 2015, changing maternity and paternity leave substantially. 

It allows both new mums and dads to split the time taken off work in the first year of their baby’s life.

However, a new survey by commercial law firm EMW has found that fewer than 1% of eligible parents are using Shared Parental Leave, with just 8,700 new parents splitting their leave between them.

“In many cases, new parents, particularly fathers, could be concerned about the impact on their career just by taking a few months off,” says the study.

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Here’s what you need to know about shared parental leave, how to find out if you are eligible, and why you should take it.

How does Shared Parental Leave work?

Traditionally, only mothers have been able to take lengthy paid leave after the birth of a child.

Shared Parental Leave aims to change that by allowing both parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave – 37 weeks of which is paid.

Parents can either choose to split the leave at different times, so one parent takes 25 weeks leave then the other parent takes 25 weeks after that so one parent is with the child for the first 50 weeks. Or, both parents could take the leave at the same time, or you could do a combination of the two.

You don’t have to take all the leave in one go. You could book numerous blocks of leave throughout your child’s first year. But, you must give your employer at least eight weeks notice before you take parental leave.

Does this affect the old maternity and paternity leave system?

Mothers must still take the first two weeks off after the birth (four weeks if she works in a factory) and fathers are still entitled to take two weeks of paid paternity leave.

Shared parental leave kicks in after those two weeks.

Who can take Shared Parental Leave?

This is where it gets complicated. Buckle your seatbelt this is going to be technical and lengthy.

If both parents are employed then they are eligible if:

  • One parent has worked at the same company as an employee for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due, or when matched with an adopted child;
  • The other parent must have worked for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks leading up to the due date, and have earned at least £390 in 13 of those 66 weeks. This can be as either an employee, worker or self-employed.

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How much does Shared Parental Leave pay?

The minimum parents can be paid while on Shared Parental Leave is £140.98 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. You may find your employer pays more than this.

This is the same as statutory maternity pay, except that during the first six weeks statutory maternity pay amounts to 90% of whatever the employee earns, with no maximum.

So, something to consider when deciding to take Shared Parental Leave is how it might affect your pay.

Many employers also pay full pay to mothers on maternity leave, but this may not be offered for Shared Parental Leave. So, make sure you know exactly what your pay will be if you take maternity, paternity or shared parental leave before you make any decisions about splitting leave.

Shared parental pay is only paid for 37 weeks. If you take the full 50 weeks of the leave the last 13 is unpaid.