June 2, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The following are a few of the high points of the presentations at the International Conference on Shared Parenting by the cream of the world’s scientific crop working in the field of child custody, parenting time and child well-being.
Professor Linda Nielsen gave us her conclusions from analyzing all 52 studies of shared parenting in English-language journals. Note that she reviewed every single study, so her conclusions aren’t the result of cherry-picking. In 30 of those studies, children in shared care did better than kids in sole or primary parenting arrangements on every measure of child well-being reported. In 12 studies, they did better or equally well on all measures. In six, they did better on all but one measure and in four the outcomes were equal.
In short, there is not a single study of children in shared care that finds sole or primary care to be better, equal or even close to equal to shared parenting.
The issue of very young children having overnights with their fathers is still of interest, despite its being largely put to rest by Dr. Richard Warshak’s consensus paper endorsed by 110 scientists worldwide in 2014. Dr. William Fabricius spoke on recent research into that area.
He found that there is a strong and independent relationship between the number of overnights with Dad and a strong father-child relationship when the kids grow up. That might be nothing more than what we’d expect, but the effects of overnights go much further. Overnights with Dad actually were shown to benefit the mother-child relationship as well. Fabricius speculated that the reason for the latter finding could be that more overnights with Dad tended to relieve stress on Mom.
Fabricius’s second reported study dealt with move-aways by mothers. Obviously, relocation by mothers decreased fathers’ parenting time, resulting in damage to the father-child relationship. Relocation tends to communicate to the child that Dad doesn’t matter and that the child matters less to his/her father. Children whose mothers relocated were shown to have more delinquency, more drug and alcohol abuse and greater incidents of depression and anxiety.
Sanford Braver took on – and mercifully dispatched – the hoary notion that studies demonstrating better child outcomes are simply artifacts of self-selection, i.e. that parents who get along well anyway tend to choose shared parenting. But of course, several studies look at parents who were in considerable conflict, didn't agree to shared parenting and had it imposed on them by a judge. Their children too had better outcomes than those in sole or primary care.
Braver also pointed out that the benefits of shared parenting increase with every increment in parenting time. Therefore, 35% parenting time is good, but 40% is better and 50% is better still.
It is telling when such a prominent and respected member of the scientific community stands up and says that (a) a presumption in favor of shared parenting in child custody cases should now be the law and (b) the burden of proof is now on the opponents of shared parenting to demonstrate otherwise. Sanford Braver did both.
For me, there was no more important moment in the conference than that one. The die is cast. Shared parenting is now the definitive parenting arrangement for non-abusive, fit parents.
Dr. Kari Adamsons looked at quality time for fathers versus the quantity of time they have with their kids. Her unsurprising finding was that, while simple quantity isn’t associated with better outcomes for children and quality time is, fathers need sufficient time with their children in order for some of it to be quality time. A few hours in the afternoon don’t allow him the all-important times including feeding, bathing, reading to, putting to bed and waking up the children in the morning.
Dr. Irwin Sandler too highlighted the necessity of quality time for both parents that robustly predicts better outcomes for children. Without shared parenting, the opportunity for quality time for Dad is lost.
Dr. William Austin is a child custody evaluator. His emphases included an important concept in sociology – that of social capital. We’ve seen sociologists like Sarah McLanahan and Gary Sandefur use the notion of social capital to inquire into what might be causing kids in sole care to do worse than kids in shared care or intact families.
Social capital refers to the larger network of adults and kids available to children who live with both parents or in shared care. They have not only their maternal, but their paternal relatives with whom to interact, learn from and experience life with. Those can in turn develop into business or professional relationships when the child grows up. They can also expand to include friends of the child’s relatives. In short, a child in sole custody has only half the social capital of children with both parents in their lives. Social capital is an important buffer against the many “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and can be a source of important positive relationships and opportunities for kids throughout their lives.
Austin also discussed the concept of parental gatekeeping. The literature on gatekeeping essentially always deals with the maternal side of the coin. He pointed out that both restricting overnights and relocations can be forms of restrictive gatekeeping. So it’s interesting to note that, McIntosh’s advocacy of limiting overnights with Dad is itself an advocacy of maternal gatekeeping.
Those are just a few of the highlights of Day One of the conference. I’ll report more later.
(International Conference on Shared Parenting Blogs
International Conference on Shared Parenting a Huge Success! (06-01-2017)
Fabulous Conference Supports Shared Parenting (06-01-2017)
International Conference on Shared Parenting, Day One (06-02-2017)
International Conference on Shared Parenting: Day Two (06-07-2017))
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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