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January 26, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Following up on Friday’s post on Dr. Linda Nielsen’s masterly analysis of the social science on post-divorce fatherhood and dads’ relationships with their children - principally their daughters - that science shows that the solution to the problems created by court-induced fatherlessness is, as we might expect, more contact with fathers. Here again is Dr. Nielsen’s analysis.

By now, we’re all aware of the many deficits faced by children without fathers. The data Nielsen cites demonstrate that, to a great degree, it is the family court system that brings those deficits into being by issuing parenting orders that effectively remove fathers from children’s lives. What the courts are doing is directly in line with the desires of mothers and directly opposed to the needs of children and the rights of fathers. But scientifically-demonstrated bias on the part of judges and custody evaluators continues the practice whereby fit, loving fathers are relegated to mere visitors in the lives of their children.

The standard visitation order is precisely designed to give fathers enough time with their children to call it “shared parenting,” but not enough to ameliorate the negative impact of divorce on children. The simple fact is that 15% - 20% parenting time for fathers is not enough to maintain parent-child bonds, and it is exactly that amount of time that standard orders afford fathers. In the overwhelming majority of states, Mom has to give her approval for Dad to see more of his kids and, given her identification as the primary caregiver together with the drop in child support greater time would mean, mothers are seldom willing to grant that consent.

Too bad for kids. Study after study indicates that they’d prefer more time with their fathers, but family courts that routinely rubberstamp the desires of mothers deny it to them. As but one example, a 20-year study of the children of divorce found that those with the most time with their fathers turned out to be the best adjusted over time. Those who spent more than 25% of their custodial time with their fathers did best. And half of them felt that their relationship with their fathers actually improved post-divorce as long as they had ample time with him. (Nielsen says that “ample” means more than 25%.)

That strongly suggests that, while Mom and Dad were together, he tended to fulfill the usual paternal role of breadwinner, meaning he had less time with his children. Freed from that role by divorce, he was able to actually devote more real parenting energy and time to them. The result: better relationships with his children than he had when he was married.

It’s no surprise then that 93% of college students with divorced parents said they favored shared parenting; 70% who lived most of the time with their mothers wished they’d had more time with their dads; and only 10% of children in shared parenting arrangements ended up with just one parent or the other.

That last is important because it’s one of the many dodges used by the anti-dad crowd to oppose shared parenting. “Why should parenting be shared?” so the argument goes. “The kids will only end up with Mom eventually.” As with so much anti-shared parenting rhetoric, it’s just not so.

As is well known by now, in 2002, Bauserman analyzed 33 different studies of shared and sole parenting and found that kids who spent more time with their fathers tended to do better in school, have better mental health, be more self-confident and be better adjusted to their parents’ divorce. Significantly, all those things were true even of children whose parents were in conflict with each other.

That again is important. As with the claim that children tend to end up with Mom regardless of the parenting arrangement immediately following divorce, the claim that ongoing parental conflict should negate shared parenting is just flat wrong. The fact is, children generally can handle their parents’ disagreements. They don’t like them, but they’re nowhere near as destructive of them as losing one of the parents would be.

Yet another anti-shared parenting argument Nielsen puts to rest is the one that claims that pre-school children should only be with their mothers. Currently, Australian researcher Jennifer McIntosh is the chief advocate for that claim. Her research has been utterly destroyed by Patrick Parkinson among others. She cherry-picks her data and, in many cases, it simply doesn’t say what she says it does. But even McIntosh, inveterate anti-shared parenting advocate that she is, doesn’t claim that fathers should have no contact with their children when they’re under a certain age. Her argument is that they shouldn’t see the little ones overnight.

That too turns out to be wrong, but it’s important to understand that McIntosh nowhere claims that fathers shouldn’t see their children, even when they’re newborns.

As Nielsen points out, it is vitally important for fathers to have real contact with their children at the earliest stages of their lives. That includes overnight visits. The reason is that children bond with their parents as with no one else. Those bonds are necessary to the well-being of the child throughout its life and the process of bonding can’t be put off or shortchanged. As I’ve said before, children learn in the earliest weeks of life to differentiate between Dad and Mom. There’s literally no substitute for father-child time during that time.

Children need strong bonds to both parents and each parent’s bonds with their children are equally important to their future well-being.

Since Nielsen’s report focuses on parental bonds with their daughters, she emphasizes the danger of mother-daughter bonding that’s too exclusive of Dad. In that case, the mother may be uniquely needy and the daughter end up playing the role of parent, confidante and protector to the mother. Needless to say, that’s not healthy for the girl’s maturation, but, seeing her mother’s dependency, she may strongly desire to respond as needed. That may lead her to resist spending time with her father which ironically is probably exactly what she needs.

Nielsen’s analysis isn’t long, running to only about 10 pages. But it has plenty of heft as its citations to 135 separate studies demonstrate. It’s necessary reading. As I said before, everyone who plays any part in deciding child custody should read it, including mothers and fathers. One of the very best things we can do for our society is to bring fathers back into their children’s lives. That means educating judges, legislatures, mental health professionals, fathers and mothers about what truly promotes the best interests of children. As Nielsen says, overwhelmingly that means one thing – “more dad time, more shared parenting, more living with Dad.”

National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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