Bridging the Gap between Empirical Evidence and Socio-Legal Practice

Submitted by International Council on Shared Parenting
July 17, 2014

The International Conference on Shared Parenting on 9-11 July 2014 in Bonn, Germany under the theme "Bridging the Gap between Empirical Evidence and Socio-Legal Practice" was the first international and interdisciplinary gathering of scholars, practitioners and NGO representatives interested in the emerging paradigm of shared parenting in families in which parents are living apart. The conference was jointly chaired by the President of the International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP), Professor Edward Kruk, Canada, and Professor Dr. jur. Hildegund Sünderhauf, Lutheran University Nuremberg, Germany, and supported, among others, by the German Federal Ministry of Family (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend/BMFSFJ).

A wide range of topics as well as perspectives on shared parenting were discussed and debated, leading to 6 major theses. "First of all," Professor Kruk, stated, "shared parenting — being defined as encompassing both shared parental authority and shared parental responsibility — is a viable post-divorce parenting arrangement. Thus national family law should at least include the possibility to give shared parenting orders." Nevertheless, "an accessible network of family relationship centres that offer family mediation and other relevant support services are critical in the establishment of a legal presumption of shared parenting, and vital to the success of shared parenting arrangements", Professor Sünderhauf underlined. "The above apply to the majority of children and families, including conflict families, but not to situations of substantiated family violence and child abuse." The Preliminary Conference Conclusions are available on the conference website.

The International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP) will offer conferences on an annual basis. The follow-up International Conference on Shared Parenting is scheduled for 28-30 May 2015 in Bonn, Germany.

Conference Conclusions

  1. At the conclusion of our first International Conference on Shared Parenting the Scientific Committee has developed the following Consensus Statement:
  2. Keeping in mind that the main goal of our Council is to develop evidence-based approaches to the needs and rights of children whose parents are living apart, we established as the theme for our first conference, "Bridging the Gap between Empirical Evidence and Socio-Legal Practice". We drew around 100 delegates from 17 countries to our first conference, from the scientific, family profession and civil society sectors.

    This was the first such gathering of scholars, practitioners and NGO representatives interested in the emerging paradigm of shared parenting in families in which parents are living apart. A wide range of topics as well as perspectives on shared parenting were discussed and debated, and at the end of the conference we were challenged in regard to determining what sort of consensus emerged on a number of important issues that we discussed and debated.

    We have 6 major areas of consensus:

    1. There is a consensus that neither the discretionary best interests of the child standard, nor sole custody or primary residence orders, are serving the needs of children and families of divorce. There is a consensus that shared parenting is a viable post-divorce parenting arrangement that is optimal to child development and well-being, including for children of high conflict parents. The amount of shared parenting time necessary to achieve child well-being and positive outcomes is a minimum of one-third time with each parent, with additional benefits accruing up to and including equal (50-50) parenting time, including both weekday (routine) and weekend (leisure) time.
    2. There is consensus that "shared parenting" be defined as encompassing both shared parental authority (decision-making) and shared parental responsibility for the day-to-day upbringing and welfare of children, between fathers and mothers, in keeping with children´s age and stage of development. Thus "shared parenting" is defined as "the assumption of shared responsibilities and presumption of shared rights in regard to the parenting of children by fathers and mothers who are living together or apart."
    3. There is a consensus that national family law should at least include the possibility to give shared parenting orders, even if one parent opposes it. There is a consensus that shared parenting is in line with constitutional rights in many countries and with international human rights, namely the right of children to be raised by both of their parents.
    4. There is a consensus that the following principles should guide the legal determination of parenting after divorce: (1) shared parenting as an optimal arrangement for the majority of children of divorce, and in their best interests. (2) parental autonomy and self-determination. (3) limitation of judicial discretion in regard to the best interests of children.
    5. There is a consensus that the above apply to the majority of children and families, including high conflict families, but not to situations of substantiated family violence and child abuse. There is a consensus that the priority for further research on shared parenting should focus on the intersection of child custody and family violence, including child maltreatment in all its forms, including parental alienation.
    6. There is a consensus that an accessible network of family relationship centres that offer family mediation and other relevant support services are critical in the establishment of a legal presumption of shared parenting, and vital to the success of shared parenting arrangements.
  3. We have agreed that given the success of our first conference, ICSP will offer conferences on an annual basis, in different locales, ideally on different continents each time. We will be immediately getting to work on establishing the venue and theme for our next conference.
  4. Given that "there is a consensus that the priority for further research on shared parenting should focus on the intersection of child custody and family violence, including child maltreatment in all its forms, including parental alienation", our next conference will be focused on the theme of the intersection of shared parenting and family violence.

    The goal would be to bring together shared parenting and family violence experts, including leading researchers, practitioners and policymakers in both fields, and representatives from shared parenting and family violence organizations and child advocacy groups, to examine the feasibility and viability of (a rebuttable legal presumption of) shared parenting, given the reality of family violence in separation-related disputes between parents regarding parenting after divorce arrangements.

    Our next conference will include a series of prepared papers on the topic of shared parenting and family violence from the perspectives of researchers, practitioners and policymakers in the fields of shared parenting and family violence, and representatives from shared parenting and family violence organizations and child advocacy groups, examining the intersection of shared parenting and family violence.

    It is hoped that an outcome of our next conference would be to develop guidelines for the legal determination of parenting after divorce, based upon a shared parenting foundation, and seeking to develop safety measures in cases of established family violence. The task for researchers, policymakers and practitioners in the fields of shared parenting and family violence, and representatives of shared parenting and family violence organizations and children´s advocates, would be to discuss and address core concerns in relation to the legal determination of parenting after divorce, and to identify common ground in this regard.

    The work of the conference presenters and participants would be published in the form of a report, outlining areas of agreement with respect to needed guidelines, as well as areas for further research and development.


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