February 1, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Not long ago, I posted a couple of pieces on the family court system in Ireland and the shockingly biased ways they have of adjudicating child custody and parenting time. Now come the results of a recent survey of Irish parents regarding “shared parenting.” It’s called, not too imaginatively, “Ireland’s First Shared Parenting Survey,” and it’s in many ways remarkable, not all of them good.
Of course, in the U.S. and elsewhere, we know a lot about shared parenting. It’s been studied in considerable detail and some pretty solid conclusions have been drawn about it. So it’s strange that this Irish survey is (a) the first of its kind ever and (b) makes no mention of the massive body of knowledge about shared parenting. It’s as if the organization that conducted the survey, One Family, believes it’s inventing the wheel, that it’s conducting its research in a vacuum. Strange, to say the least.
Stranger still is One Family’s definition of “shared parenting.” When most commentators and the scientific community use the term “shared parenting,” we mean a situation in which each parent spends some significant amount of time with the child. Usually that’s around 35% or more. Not so the One Family survey that places no parameters on parenting time whatsoever. In other words, if Dad spends one day with the child in 10 years, that’s shared parenting. If he spends 50% of the time with the child, that too is shared parenting. In short, according to the survey’s definition alone, its findings are mostly useless. It supposedly studies shared parenting but its definition is so broad as to make reasoned conclusions impossible.
That raises a question. One Family claims to favor shared parenting and its announced goal is to show policy makers and others how best to support it. That’s all jolly good, but, what are they supporting? If the “shared parenting” One Family supports sees Mom having the kids 99% of the time, or perhaps 50% of the time, what is there to tell a policy maker? One Family apparently sees no difference between the two, despite the fact that essentially all the social science on parenting time and children’s well-being sees a very large one. To put it mildly, that is a big problem, one that One Family nowhere acknowledges.
The survey consisted of 21 questions that were answered by 1,014 people who have children but who aren’t living with the other parent. Weirdly, 11% of the respondents were men and 88% were women. So, starting on page two of the report of the survey, we know that what we’re about to read isn’t the Irish take on shared parenting, but Irish mothers’ take.
Now, to put it mildly, that’s a strange way to take a survey. After all, for every divorced or separated mother, there’s pretty much a divorce or separated father. So why not weight the sample equally or at least roughly so? Does One Family believe that mothers’ and fathers’ opinions on shared parenting are the same, and so they don’t need a representative sample? If they believe that, I can assure them that they are quite wrong.
Recall Roisin O’Shea’s study of family courts that found that fathers in Ireland almost never receive primary or sole custody of their kids. So, unless One Family managed to locate the few non-custodial mothers in the country, it’s a safe bet that not only does the survey reflect the attitudes toward shared parenting of almost solely mothers, but that those mothers are almost certainly custodial ones. So, although the survey never lets on, the simple fact is that whatever conclusions it draws must be limited to custodial mothers.
Beyond the plainly unacceptable methodology are the results. Question 7 asks of custodial parents how often the non-custodial parent “spends time/has contact” with the child. Again, the respondents were almost certainly mothers. Some 9.4% of them said the other parent had daily contact and 33.1% said the other parent had weekly contact.
But of course what wasn’t asked and what wasn’t revealed is what “contact” means. A two-minute telephone call is different from a 24-hour sleepover, in case One Family doesn’t know. But all are aggregated as if there were no difference. No question was asked about the type or duration of contact and therefore no information on same was gathered.
Adding strange to strange, the commentary on the above data by One Family is “These questions reflect the fact that most children who do not live with both of their parents together, do in fact spend time with both of their parents on a weekly basis.” Uh no, that’s not what the answers reflect. Most obviously, 9.4% plus 33.1% does not equal a figure over 50%, which they would have to for us to conclude that “most children” spend time with both parents on a weekly basis.
More importantly, One Family chose to elide the difference between spending time with the non-custodial parent and having contact with him. Again, spending time suggests in-person interaction while having contact could be at the far end of a long-distance phone call of however short duration.
One Family’s approach to this survey is biased and all but guaranteed to produce skewed results that bear little relationship to the realities of shared parenting in Ireland. As such, it must be viewed as an effort to shape public opinion on the subject that’s not honest. It uses the term “shared parenting,” but doesn’t survey couples who actually have a shared parenting arrangement and it does so almost exclusively from the point of view of mothers.
We won’t learn much from this exercise. The Irish should look to the established literature, if they want to know what shared parenting is all about.
I’ll do more on this tomorrow.
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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