April 29, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The war among social scientists over shared parenting took on a new front recently with the publication of a special issue of the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. Its topic is the latest research on a number of aspects of shared parenting. It was edited by Dr. Linda Nielsen and includes articles by such luminaries as Richard Warshak, Michael Lamb, Sanford Braver, William Fabricius, Malin Bergstrom and others.
It is a powerful salvo in the aforementioned war. The issue is another attempt to (a) describe the social science to date on shared parenting and, as any such attempt must also do, (b) clamp down on the disinformation coming from the few remaining anti-shared parenting advocates. Dr. Nielsen wrote a preface to the issue that describes in some detail examples of the non-scientific and in some cases non-ethical contributions to the debate on shared parenting made by those advocates.
Professionals have too often infused these discussions with nonacademic remarks, statements with little to no scientific basis, and tactics that diminish the quality of discourse, obscure the empirical data, and potentially lead to decisions that are not in children’s best interests. One common example of these harmful polemics is ridiculing and rebuking scholars or individuals who support JPC as “fathers’ rights” activists who are waging a “gender war” where fathers’ selfish needs are put ahead of children’s needs.
As I never tire of pointing out, if these people had an argument, why don’t they make it? The notion that, in some way, the existing practice of handing primary custody to mothers almost as a matter of course while consigning fathers to the status of mere visitor is not a “gendered” phenomenon, but attempting to equalize parenting time between the two parents is one is, on one hand, a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the main issue –children’s well-being – and on the other hand, just plain stupid. Scrupulous advocates with something to say that’s worth hearing don’t make such a transparently threadbare claim.
Referring to JPC as a “grand social experiment” that is conducted without knowing how it affects children implies that JPC is haphazardly conceived, lacks research support, and imperils children in ways that should appall or frighten us.
The anti-shared parenting crowd frequently trots out this entirely meritless claim. Reread the above sentence. Be aware that every single word applies to existing practice and not to JPC (Joint Physical Custody). We indeed have conducted a “grand social experiment” over the past several decades. Encouraged by feminist groups, domestic violence advocates, mental health professionals and others, we decided that kids don’t need fathers, only mothers. We’ve known for a long time the disastrous consequences of that ill-advised and ideologically-driven policy. We see it in crime figures, education data, information on addiction, low workforce participation rates, suicide rates, etc.
Our experimentation with the hypothesis that children don’t need their fathers indeed “lacks empirical support and imperils children in ways that should appall or frighten us.” We need to do several things to right the wrong we’ve been committing for so long and shared parenting is the most important. Those who argue against shared parenting as the default position in family courts necessarily argue in favor of poorer outcomes for children. That they use weak, unscrupulous arguments to promote their point of view is beneath contempt.
Meanwhile, reliable science militates strongly in favor of shared parenting where possible.
The consensus of these separate groups of experts and of the children themselves fails to support those who frame JPC as an experiment, contend that fathering time is not high on the list of children’s priorities, or that JPC is not child centered.
That consensus dates from the 1970s, but, for the anti-shared parenting crowd, almost 50 years of research isn’t sufficient.
In that vein, when scholars or policymakers warn that we should not encourage or support JPC until we accumulate “more” research—more than the 60 existing studies that have compared children’s outcomes in JPC and SPC families—we might wonder why they do not issue similar warnings against SPC given the large body of research that has failed to support it.
Among the many outrageous assertions by those who would separate children from their fathers, this may be the worst. Yes, we all want more research. More information is usually better than less. But family court judges can’t defer action on all child custody cases until Robert Emery and his fellow travelers decide to give them the go-ahead. They need to issue temporary and then permanent orders in a timely fashion.
The question then becomes on what basis they make those decisions. Should it be on the non-existent science supporting sole custody or on the rich, bountiful and well-conducted work supporting shared parenting as being in children’s interests? Yes, the latter is incomplete, but of course it always will be. There likely will never come a time when there is simply no question that hasn’t been answered, no new area to consider. Therefore, judges must make their custody decisions on the best science available. And that science overwhelmingly supports shared care absent a proven record of child abuse, unfitness, etc.
We welcome the special issue of the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. Nothing will ever bring the anti-dad warriors to heel, but for the rest of us, for those with open minds and a true desire to act in children’s best interests, it’s a valuable resource and a telling blow in the ongoing war.
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, #solecustody, #JournalofDivorceandRemarriage, #Dr.LindaNielsen