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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

May 18, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The second wave of arguments against shared parenting claims that it’s inappropriate in high-conflict divorces.  It at one point argued that evidence supporting shared parenting merely cherry-picked parents who got along well anyway and could therefore make joint care work.  The latter was disproven when parents with various levels of conflict were compared both in and out of shared parenting arrangements.  The former has also been found to be unsupported by empirical evidence.  Prof. Kruk summarizes:

There is now strong empirical evidence, however, that children can benefit from shared parenting even when their parents do not have low-conflict, cooperative relationships (Fabricius, Sokol, Diaz, & Braver, 2016; Nielsen, 2017). Shared parenting might create an incentive for parental cooperation.

More recent research has also found that shared parenting can ameliorate the harmful effects of high conflict: A warm relationship with both parents is a protective factor for children (Nielsen, 2017; Warshak, 2014). The benefits of shared parenting exist independent of parental conflict. Shared parenting is beneficial for children in both low- and high-conflict situations. Except in situations where children are at risk of physical harm or negligent parenting, parenting time should not be limited in cases of high conflict, and high conflict should not be used to justify restrictions on children’s contact with either of their parents.

It has always struck me as odd that, when parents are in conflict, as they usually are during divorce, that, according to the anti-shared parenting crowd, the solution is to deny the child a relationship with one of its parents, usually Dad.  That neither addressed the conflict between the parents nor was a positive development for the child.  Why should the child suffer because the parents can’t get along?

Besides, there are many ways to ameliorate the conflict between the parents.  If Mom drops the kids off at school on Friday morning and Dad picks them up on Friday afternoon, keeps them for seven days and then drops them off the following Friday morning, the two adults never have to see or speak to each other.  Plus,

A number of specialized interventions to help parents reduce conflict have been developed, including parallel parenting, therapeutic family mediation, parent education programs, and parenting coordination (Kruk, 2013). A key strategy is keeping parents focused on their children’s needs, and enhancing parents’ attunement to their children’s needs. The main therapeutic task in high-conflict families is to help parents separate their previous marital hostilities from their ongoing parenting responsibilities.

Not only that, but whose bright idea was it that children must be shielded from all familial conflict?  They weren’t when their parents were married, and there’s likely to be conflict when they’re divorced.  That’s called “life.”  And for a child to witness conflict and its adult resolution is unambiguously a good thing.  How else is little Andy or Jenny supposed to learn how to resolve conflict with partners or peers?

Conflict is a normal part of everyday life, and to completely shield children from normal day-to-day conflict could in fact be doing them a disservice. Conflict presents an opportunity for resolution of disputes, healing, and reconciliation.

It goes without saying that some conflict is different from other conflict.  Domestic violence and child abuse or neglect are obviously not good for kids and therefore form exceptions to every shared parenting bill ever presented to a state legislature.

I’ll finish with Dr. Kruk’s article next time.

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