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June 25, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Today I’m going to deviate slightly from my previous posts on Cara Tabachnick’s misleading article on parental alienation and the Family Bridges reunification program (Washington Post, 5/11/17). Last time I pointed out several of her very many statements that, whether by design or not, clearly mislead Washington Post readers. Here’s one of the most egregious ones:

There’s scant gold-standard scientific research to help practitioners determine the best custody arrangement.

This article by the excellent Dr. Linda Nielsen provides the real picture of child custody and parenting time arrangements that Tabachnick’s negligent phrasing entirely ignores (Institute for Family Studies, 6/20/17). While Nielsen’s article came out after Tabachnick’s and therefore couldn’t have been cited by her, all the research to which Nielsen refers pre-existed the Post piece and Nielsen’s written previous articles describing her analysis of the literature. In short, had Tabachnick been interested in the truth about parenting time and child well-being, there was plenty to educate her. But instead she chose to leave readers with the idea that the state of the science on shared parenting, aka Joint Physical Custody (JPC), is up in the air. That’s the very concept that was roundly debunked by scientists from all points of the globe at the recent International Conference on Shared Parenting in Boston.

So let’s take a look at what we actually know about JPC while keeping in mind Tabachnick’s threadbare claim. That comparison should give readers an excellent idea of the level of intellectual dishonesty at which her WaPo article dwells.

I reviewed 54 studies that compared children’s outcomes in shared and sole physical custody families independent of family income and parental conflict. In another recent study, I examined all the studies that compared levels of conflict and quality of co-parenting relationships between the two groups of parents. Ten findings emerged from my research, many of which refute commonly held beliefs that can lead to custody decisions that are often not in children’s best interests.

1. In the 54 studies—absent situations in which children needed protection from an abusive or negligent parent even before their parents separated—children in shared-parenting families had better outcomes than children in sole physical custody families. The measures of well-being included: academic achievement, emotional health (anxiety, depression, self-esteem, life satisfaction), behavioral problems (delinquency, school misbehavior, bullying, drugs, alcohol, smoking), physical health and stress-related illnesses, and relationships with parents, stepparents, and grandparents.

2. Infants and toddlers in JPC families have no worse outcomes than those in SPC families. Sharing overnight parenting time does not weaken young children’s bonds with either parent.

3. When the level of parental conflict was factored in, JPC children still had better outcomes across multiple measures of well-being. High conflict did not override the benefits linked to shared parenting, so JPC children’s better outcomes cannot be attributed to lower parental conflict.

4. Even when family income was factored in, JPC children still had better outcomes. Moreover, JPC parents were not significantly richer than SPC parents.

5. JPC parents generally did not have better co-parenting relationships or significantly less conflict than SPC parents. The benefits linked to JPC cannot be attributed to better co-parenting or to lower conflict.

6. Most JPC parents do not mutually or voluntarily agree to the plan at the outset. In the majority of cases, one parent initially opposed the plan and compromised as a result of legal negotiations, mediation, or court orders. Yet in these studies, JPC children still had better outcomes than SPC children.

7. When children are exposed to high, ongoing conflict between their parents, including physical conflict, they do not have any worse outcomes in JPC than in SPC families. Being involved in high, ongoing conflict is no more damaging to children in JPC than in SPC families.

8. Maintaining strong relationships with both parents by living in JPC families appears to offset the damage of high parental conflict and poor co-parenting. Although JPC does not eliminate the negative impact of frequently being caught in the middle of high, ongoing conflict between divorced parents, it does appear to reduce children’s stress, anxiety, and depression.

9. JPC parents are more likely to have detached, distant, and “parallel” parenting relationships than to have “co-parenting” relationships where they work closely together, communicate often, interact regularly, coordinate household rules and routines, or try to parent with the same parenting style.

10. No study has shown that children whose parents are in high legal conflict or who take their custody dispute to court have worse outcomes than children whose parents have less legal conflict and no custody hearing.

So, children in shared parenting arrangements have better outcomes than those in any other situation save intact families. That holds true for even the youngest children. Parental conflict doesn’t trump shared parenting. The benefits of shared parenting hold true regardless of the income of the parents. Better outcomes for kids is explained by the amount of parenting time, not by JPC parents getting along better with each other. Nor is it explained by JPC parents being more agreeable with each other. JPC appears to offset the effects on children of high-parental conflict.

Amazingly, Tabachnick ignored all of that. The science on shared parenting contradicts her pre-conceived narrative, so she decided her readers didn’t need to know it. That’s intellectual dishonesty at its most shameful.

Nielsen concludes,

Knowledge and understanding of these findings allow us to dismantle some of the myths surrounding shared parenting so we can better serve the interests of the millions of children whose parents are no longer living together.

Too bad Tabachnick’s more about promulgating those myths than debunking them.

A final aside: Nielsen’s piece appears on the site for Brad Wilcox’s Institute for Family Studies. I’ve excoriated several IFS articles before, so it’s only fair for me to laud them for giving a forum to a researcher as scrupulous as Nielsen. Hers is a huge improvement over what’s been the status quo at IFS. I hope to see more of the same in the future.




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.

#sharedparenting, #jointphysicalcustody, #parentalconflict

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