Anyone who has read my legal handbook Fathers Matter will have an appreciation of my views in relation to shared parenting.
“Equally shared parenting” is, of course, a controversial topic. There are many organizations promoting equally shared parenting (ESP) but what is striking about Leading Women for Shared Parenting (LW4SP) is the organization’s approach to the issue.
That is because LW4SP is an International Children’s Advocacy Organization and, as such, its whole focus in on advocating change in family law for the benefit of the children not the parents – in fact LW4SP’s twofold approach to ESP could not be clearer:
1. A belief in the natural right of children to love and be loved by both their parents and how best to facilitate that for the benefit of all the parties involved; and
2. A very clear definition of ESP which is that “children should spend no less than 35% residential time sharing as a baseline minimum with each parent” save where there has been a substantiated finding of “abuse, neglect or abandonment” in which case a parenting plan should be devised which is consistent with the findings and what is in the best interest of the child.
LW4SP’s definition of shared parenting1 and its position that there should be a rebuttable presumption of ESP as the starting point in all family law matters involving sharing children’s time between parents, is in line with the extensive research and emerging consensus on what is in the best interests of children after separation.
It is only possible within such a short article to set out a fraction of the pertinent research by distinguished experts and academics in the field of family law and child development, but in the 2010 paper Custody and Parenting Time: Links to Family Relationships and Well-being after Divorce2 the authors make the following statements:
“There now appears to be a strong consensus among the general public that under normal circumstances, equal parenting time is best for the child.3”
“And there is strong evidence, backed by theory, for relations between parent-child relationships and child outcomes. These findings show benefits up to and including equal parenting time…4”
“An emerging consensus is that the minimum of one third-time is necessary to achieve this criterion and that benefits continue to accrue as parenting time reaches equal (50-50) time.5”
These findings are confirmed in a 2014 press release by Dr Richard Warshak, which was endorsed by 110 of the World’s most prominent child development experts, in which he states that shared parenting can even be appropriate for children under the age of four.6
And what about cases where there is inter-parental conflict? Until recently it has been assumed that shared parenting is impossible in conflicted families but the 2010 paper referred to above concludes that unless the inter-parental conflict was severe or violent it should not be used to justify restrictions on children’s access to either of their parents.7 Furthermore, in a 2011 paper8 the findings were that it is not shared parenting that damages children, but conflict, and that there needs to be more emphasis on programs to reduce that conflict.
And in an interesting 2013 article The Causal Effects of Father Absence9 the authors conclude that there is, “strong evidence that father absence negatively affects children’s social-emotional development, particularly by increasing externalizing behavior…10” Although the article is about father absence it is important to note that this is not a gender issue and there are also cases where the mother is absent, but the fact remains that it is fathers who are most likely to become “absented” by the family court process.
This research demonstrates that children benefit most from the active involvement of both parents in their lives. The “one-third time” referred to relates to the time a child needs in order to effectively bond with a parent (mother or father) so as to enable that child to build a quality relationship. The research also demonstrates the detrimental and dire social consequences for children where a parent is “absented” from their lives.
Where there is no abuse, neglect or abandonment, LW4SP advocates that Government policy and laws must be structured in such a way as to maximize the opportunity of all parents to contribute to the social, emotional, intellectual, physical, moral and spiritual development of their children. This can only be in the children’s best interests.
Celia Conrad is a former family solicitor, freelance legal writer and UK member of LW4SP. She is also the author of Fathers Matter: The essential guide to contact on separation & divorce http://www.fathersmatter.com/
This article has been written on behalf of LW4SP and the views expressed are in accordance with LW4SP’s Mission Statement. For more information on LW4SP contact: http://lw4sp.org/
2 Researched and written by Fabricius W V, Braver S L, Diaz P & Velez C E and appearing in Lamb, Michael E (Ed) book The Role of the Father in Child Development (5th Edition) John Wiley & Sons 2012. Michael Lamb is a recognized authority on the role of fathers in child development.
3 Ibid, p. 8
4 Ibid, p. 250
5 Ibid, p. 254
6 Experts Agree: Infants and Toddlers Need Overnight Care from both Parents after their Separation, Dr Richard Warshak, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre in Dallas.
7 Ibid, p. 251
8 18. William V. Fabricius, 2011; The bad news about Divorce and Children is worse than we thought, but the good news is better than we thought (7 July 2011)
9 Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2013. 39:399-427 researched by Sara McLanahan of Princeton University; Laura Tach of Cornell University & Daniel Schneider of the University of Berkeley, California
10 Ibid, 39:422