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February 22nd, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
A new analysis of the literature regarding shared parenting demolishes for all time any argument that less than equal parenting should be the default position in custody cases post-divorce.  The article was authored by Dr. Edward Kruk of the University of British Columbia’s School of Social Work and appeared in the January 2012 edition of the American Journal of Family Therapy.  It should be required reading for every parent, every state legislator, every family judge, every psychologist, every custody evaluator, every mediator.  Indeed, it should be required reading for every person who has anything to do with the system of deciding custody.

Kruk has long championed equal parental responsibility post-divorce.  He’s been a stalwart of the movement that seeks to improve children’s welfare by keeping both parents in their lives following divorce or separation.  In his article, he’s marshalled the reliable data and advanced 16 separate arguments for a legal presumption of Equal Parental Responsibility (EPR).

There can now be no serious contention that the type of radically unequal parenting orders issued by courts every day promote the best interests of children, the legitimate interests of parents or those of society in general.  Put simply, the case is closed and equal parenting won.

In Section 1, Kruk says the obvious that “equal parenting preserves children’s relationships with both parents.”  That’s not earth-shaking news; nor is the fact, revealed by a small avalanche of social science, that children’s welfare is  promoted by equal custody post-divorce.  Most tellingly, a 2002 meta-analysis by Bauserman of all 33 North American studies comparing sole  versus shared custody found overwhelming evidence that children did better under the latter parenting arrangement.

Comparing child adjustment in joint physical and legal custody settings with sole custody, as well as intact family settings, and examining children’s general adjustment, family relationships, self-esteem, emotional and behavioral adjustment, divorce-specific adjustment, as well as the degree and nature of ongoing conflict between parents, Bauserman found that children in joint custody arrangements fare significantly better than those in sole custody on all measures.

Tellingly, the same holds true for “high-conflict” parental relationships.  That’s been one of the key objections raised by those opposed to children’s relationships with their fathers - that equal parenting may be good enough in amicable divorces, but can never work where parents are at each other’s throats.  On the contrary, equal parenting works best for kids of those parental relationships too. 

Kruk goes on to cite numerous studies showing that the existing patterns of child custody so beloved of family judges everywhere fail to promote the short or long-term interests of children, result in greater parental alienation of children, and rob children of one parent and that parent’s extended family, community, culture and traditions.  Moreover, those every-other-weekend arrangements result in greater reliance on “substitute care,” i.e. daycare, neighbor care, etc. than do equal parenting plans.

Section 2 announces that “Equal Parenting Preserves Parent’s Relationships with Their Children.”  That is, equal parenting is not just good for kids, it’s good for parents as well.  One of the many shibboleths tossed out by the anti-dad crowd is that fathers’ rights are in some way antithetical to children’s rights.  Given the fact that massive amounts of social science show that children benefit from active involvement with their dads, both pre- and post-divorce, that argument is bunk; as I’ve said before, fathers’ rights are children’s rights.

But, as Kruk makes clear, children’s well-being seems to be fathers’ well-being too.  That is, what makes for a healthy, happy child – equal parenting – tends to make for a healthy and happy father too.  Put another way, divorce takes children away from fathers and fathers suffer the loss terribly.  For fathers and a few mothers, divorce means the loss of a child.  Kruk says that 30% of children have no contact with their fathers post-divorce.  In the United States, the figure is 35%; in England, it’s 33%.  That loss is the loss of the father’s identity as a parent, built up over his years of marriage and childcare, and then suddenly destroyed by the family court.

Research from twenty years ago found that parents who lost contact with their children following divorce suffered a grief reaction containing all the major elements of bereavement…  These parents routinely report increasing isolation, loss of employment and inability to form or sustain new relationships, and these impacts are connected to more disturbed patterns of thinking and feeling, including shame, stigma and self-blame, and learned helplessness and hopelessness about the future.  A “suicide epidemic” has been identified among divorced fathers without custody, linked directly to family court judgments that remove them as routine caregivers of their children.

Although non-custodial parents suffer the slings and arrows of the family court system more, custodial parents also undergo the hardships of being, effectively the sole source of love, care, advice, oversight, discpline, teaching, etc. of children.

Whereas non-resident parents suffer the acute effects of child absence, custodial parents are typically overwhelmed by sole responsibility for their children’s care, and diminished parenting results, as parents are less physically and emotionally available to their children.

And finally, family courts’ placing the lion’s share of childcare responsibility on mothers impairs their ability to work, earn and save, both for their own care in old-age and for their children’s care before becoming adults.

I’ll post more on Dr. Kruk’s important article in the near future.

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