There's still more information on the value of shared custody to children. Robert Bauserman has published an analysis of data that shows that children of divorced parents do better across a range of child welfare markers if their parents share custody than if one has sole custody.
an article on Bauserman's analysis (Naples News
Bauserman has been researching shared parenting for over a decade that I know of and probably longer. He's one of the many principled researchers on the topic, so his work should carry some weight with policymakers.
Continuing research by Robert Bauserman, Ph.D., with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, affirms that children do better in joint custody arrangements. His studies compared child adjustment in joint physical or joint legal custody, with sole-custody settings, with the adjustment characteristics of intact families.
Joint custody is defined as either physical custody, where a child spends equal or substantial amounts of time with either parents or shared legal custody, where a child lives with primarily one parent but both parents are involved in all aspects of the child"s life.
Here's the nitty-gritty of Bauserman's latest findings.
Bauserman concludes that living situations are not as influential as the time children are able to spend with each parent. Children from divorced families, who either live with both parents at different times, or spend certain amounts of time with each parent, are better adjusted than children who live and interact with just one parent.
Joint custody children had less behavior and emotional problems, had higher self-esteem, better family relations and school performance than children in sole custody arrangements. "And,' said Bauserman, "these children were as well-adjusted as intact family children. This is probably because joint custody provides the child with an opportunity to have ongoing contact with both parents.'
Let's hope family judges read that; let's hope they get the message. In fact, let me encourage each and every one of them to take one sentence out of the quotation, enlarge it so they can read it from several feet away, and tack it up on the wall of their offices. This is the sentence: "[L]iving situations are not as influential as the time children are able to spend with each parent."
See, isn't that simple? Children don't want to lose a parent just because the parents want to lose each other. More importantly, they suffer when they do; some of them suffer all their lives. The next time a judge decides custody, it's all but certain he'll be required by law to act in the best interests of the child. Well, there it is. The best interests of the child are served by maximizing time with both parents.
Yes, there are parents who've proven themselves incapable of parental responsibility. In extreme circumstances, they should be denied custody or have it strictly limited.
But fathers routinely lose almost all parenting time with their children on the thinnest of pretexts or sometimes none at all. A naked allegation of domestic violence made for the first time during a custody proceeding and with no corroborating evidence is more than enough to separate a child from its father at least for a time.
And even without that, fathers are shunted off to the role of non-custodial parent for the sin of working too hard to provide support for their wives and children. Failing to be the primary caregiver to the child is usually enough to land a father in non-custodial limbo.
If courts truly want to act in the best interests of children, that must change. It is far past time that courts acknowledge what's been know to social science for decades - that fathers desire full relationships with their children post-divorce, that children want to stay connected to their dad and that children do better if that happens.
But Bauserman isn't finished.
Joint custody is also better for parents. Couples reported less conflict, possibly because both parents could participate in their children"s lives equally, and not spend their time arguing over childcare decisions. It also gives each parent a break from continuous childcare responsibilities. Unfortunately, a perception exists that joint custody is more harmful because it exposes children to ongoing parental conflict. In fact, the studies in Bauserman"s review found that sole-custody parents reported higher levels of conflict.
It's a claim that the anti-dad crowd relies on - shared custody results in increased levels of conflict between parents. The problem is that in most cases, it's just not true. Shared custody takes the stress off the one parent who we'd expect to get sole custody - Mom. Dad benefits because he sees more of his kids than under the usual one-weekend-every-two-weeks arrangement. The kids benefit because they don't lose one parent.
I reported recently on the Allen-Brinig study of custody cases in Oregon. They found that claims of domestic abuse utterly derailed the state legislature's aim of increased joint custody under a new statute. That pretty much pinpoints the problem - the use of abuse claims, the overwhelming majority of which are by mothers, to thwart not only fathers' rights to children and children's rights to a father, but public policy as well.
Bauserman and countless others have demonstrated the value of fathers to children and shared custody to all concerned. So what needs to happen next is for state legislatures to put reasonable restrictions on abuse allegations. Those restrictions should include requirements of actual proof of actual violence (as opposed to uncorroborated allegations that Mom was subjectively "in fear"). They should also include real penalties for false allegations made for the purpose of gaining an upper hand in the custody case.
The anti-dad crowd will scream bloody murder, but that's what has to happen in order to keep fathers and children together post-divorce.