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February 26, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

This my final installment on the analysis of current literature on shared parenting arrangements of very young children recently published by Dr. Richard Warshak in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law, a publication of the American Psychological Association. Its analysis and conclusions are agreed to by 110 experts in the field from numerous different countries. Here are its conclusions:

To the extent that policy and custody decisions seek to express scientific knowledge about child development, the analyses in this article should receive significant weight by legislators and decision makers.

  1.  Just as we encourage parents in intact families to share care of their children, we believe that the social science evidence on the development of healthy parent–child relationships, and the long-term benefits of healthy parent–child relationships, supports the view that shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children. We recognize that some parents and situations are unsuitable for shared parenting, such as those mentioned in point #7 below.

  2. Young children’s interests benefit when two adequate parents follow a parenting plan that provides their children with balanced and meaningful contact with each parent while avoiding a template that calls for a specific division of time imposed on all families.

  3. In general the results of the studies reviewed in this document are favorable to parenting plans that more evenly balance young children’s time between two homes. Child developmental theory and data show that babies normally form attachments to both parents and that a parent’s absence for long periods of time jeopardizes the security of these attachments. Evidence regarding the amount of parenting time in intact families and regarding the impact of day care demonstrates that spending half time with infants and toddlers is more than sufficient to support children’s needs. Thus, to maximize children’s chances of having a good and secure relationship with each parent, we encourage both parents to maximize the time they spend with their children. Parents have no reason to worry if they share parenting time up to 50/50 when this is compatible with the logistics of each parent’s schedule.

  4. Research on children’s overnights with fathers favors allowing children under four to be cared for at night by each parent rather than spending every night in the same home. We find the theoretical and practical considerations favoring overnights for most young children to be more compelling than concerns that overnights might jeopardize children’s development. Practical considerations are relevant to consider when tailoring a parenting plan for young children to the circumstances of the parents... Overnights create potential benefits related to the logistics of sharing parenting time...

    Overnights help to reduce the tension associated with rushing to return the child, and thus potentially improve the quality and satisfaction of the contact both for the parent and child. Overnights allow the child to settle in to the father’s home, which would be more familiar to the child who regularly spends the night in the home compared with one who has only 1-hr segments in the home (allowing for transportation and preparation for the return trip)... Spending the night allows the father to participate in a wider range of bonding activities, such as engaging in bedtime rituals, and comforting the child in the event of nighttime awakenings.

    Nonetheless, because of the relatively few studies currently available, the limitations of these studies, and the predominance of results that indicate no direct benefit or drawback for overnights per se outside the context of other factors, we stop short of concluding that the current state of evidence supports a blanket policy or legal presumption regarding overnights. Because of the well-documented vulnerability of father–child relationships among never-married and divorced parents, and the studies that identify overnights as a protective factor associated with increased father commitment to childrearing and reduced incidence of father drop-out, and because no study demonstrates any net risk of overnights, decision makers should recognize that depriving young children of overnights with their fathers could compromise the quality of their developing relationship.

  5. Parenting plans that provide children with contact no more than six days per month with a parent, and require the children to wait more than a week between contacts, tax the parent–child relationships .This type of limited access schedule risks compromising the foundation of the parent–child bond. It deprives children of the type of relationship and contact that most children want with both parents. The research supports the growing trend of statutory law and case law that encourages maximizing children’s time with both parents. This may be even more important for young children in order to lay a strong foundation for their relationships with their fathers and to foster security in those relationships. Rather than place obstacles in the path of fathers’ involvement with their children, society should encourage fathers to be more productively and directly engaged in their children’s lives. Broadly speaking, diverse stakeholders must collaboratively develop a range of social initiatives — including public policy and psychoeducational programs — that help set the stage for fathers and young children to forge healthy bonds (Cowan, Cowan, Pruett, Pruett, & Wong, 2009; Marsiglio & Roy, 2012).

  6. There is no evidence to support postponing the introduction of regular and frequent involvement, including overnights, of both parents with their babies and toddlers. Maintaining children’s attachment relationships with each parent is an important consideration when developing parenting plans. The likelihood of maintaining these relationships is maximized by reducing the lengths of separations between children and each parent and by providing adequate parenting time for each parent...

  7. Our recommendations apply in normal circumstances, for most children with most parents. The existence of parents with major deficits in how they care for their children, such as parents who neglect or abuse their children, and those from whom children would need protection and distance even in intact families, should not dictate policy for the majority of children being raised by parents who live apart from each other. Also, our recommendations apply to children who have relationships with both parents. If a child has a relationship with one parent and no prior relationship with the other parent, or a peripheral, at best ,relationship, different plans will serve the goal of building the relationship versus strengthening and maintaining an existing relationship.

There you have it. The social science on the matter of children’s interests in relation to their parents, parenting plans and the time they spend with each parent post-divorce is, for all practical purposes, settled. Of course there is always more to be learned, but as of now, there is no empirically-based reason to deny shared parenting in the overwhelming majority of child custody cases.

Children form equally strong attachments to both parents. Children need both parents. And parents need their kids. Parenting is one of the most powerful and important roles any adult can play. Men and women both, when they become parents, take on that role as a fundamental part of their personal identity. When courts take away that identity, as they do when they consign fathers to the role of “visitor with money,” they strike a blow at their very being. All too often, that blow proves literally fatal as we can see in the dramatically higher suicide rates for fathers who lose custody of their children.

The survey of the literature, undertaken by Richard Warshak and endorsed by 110 of the world’s foremost social scientists, should be required reading for every person in the legal system with a say about child custody. That means judges, guardians ad litem, custody evaluators, psychologists, social workers, mediators — everyone. It also means state legislators who regularly fail to pass even the most timid of shared parenting laws apparently placing their fear of the family law bar and sundry radical feminist organizations above the well-being of children.

And it means those who serve in the United States Congress. Although family law is mostly an issue for the states, Uncle Sam has stuck his long fingers into the family law pie as well. Federal law is responsible to a great degree for the draconian practices by states enforcing child support. It’s also responsible for essentially ignoring fathers who find their visitation days, already few enough, reduced still further by mothers who know they’ll pay no price for doing so. The federal government must direct real funding toward support for non-custodial parents to allow them all the time with their kids court orders entitle them to.

But far more important than any of that is that state laws and court practices need to change. They need to change now. They need to get out of the business of marginalizing fathers in the lives of their children. There is no longer any excuse for doing so. They can no longer pretend they don’t know the errors of their ways.

Dr. Warshak and his colleagues have, for all times, put an end to any such excuses. Everyone is now on notice: shared parenting is a must.

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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