May 10, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Not long ago, I did a piece on the special issue of the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage that deals with the latest science on a number of issues affecting child custody and parenting time. The issue should be required reading for all family court judges and state legislators who are considering bills to reform family courts.

Today’s blog will simply summarize the various articles in the issue and use Prof. Linda Nielsen’s preface to do so.

The first article is Nielsen’s summary of “the results of the 60 existing studies that compared the outcomes of children in JPC and SPC families.”

As these studies document, JPC children fare better than SPC children on a wide range of measures of well-being—above all, the quality of their relationships with both parents. More notably, independent of family income, the level of conflict between the parents, the quality of their relationships with each parent, and quality of the parenting skills, JPC children are still generally more advantaged.

Children’s better outcomes in shared care don’t stem from any of a number of possible other variables, but from the shared arrangement itself. There are, of course, certain situations in which shared parenting either can’t work or isn’t advised.

Next, Dr. Richard Warshak addresses the issue of overnights with Dad for infants, toddlers and older children, i.e. the subject of his consensus paper endorsed by 110 experts worldwide.

Drawing on research from the large literature on early childhood development over many decades, Warshak explains why “contemporary proposals of blanket restrictions are contradictory and rest on faulty interpretations of a narrow bandwidth of scholarship.”

Are you listening, Jennifer McIntosh? Somehow I doubt it.

Article three deals with whether shared parenting is warranted in high-conflict divorces.

Contrary to popular belief, children with higher levels of JPC do not have poorer adjustment when their parents have high levels of conflict during the divorce process or in the first few years following divorce. It is the more rare, long-lasting conflict that matters. Moreover, having a high-quality relationship with parents is linked to better child adjustment even in high-conflict families.

Given that, in Sweden shared parenting has become quite common, that country is ripe for comparing how children do in shared care versus sole care and intact families. Dr. Malin Bergström has been doing so for many years and her findings militate strongly in favor of shared care.

[W]e learn that toddlers fare just as well as older children in JPC families and that JPC children of all ages have better outcomes than SPC children. We also learn that the Swedish government is fully behind JPC policies, as is the general population.

Next, the issue deals with children’s relationships with their grandparents and others of their extended families.

In “Children’s Relationships With Grandparents in Married and in Shared and Sole Physical Custody Families,” Jappens documents that JPC children have stronger relationships with both sets of grandparents than SPC children. This matters because these relationships are linked to better outcomes for children after their parents separate.

Braver and Lamb then summarize the views of the 12 experts who gave talks at the Conference on Shared Parenting last May in Boston by the National Parents Organization.

These experts largely agreed that JPC should become a legal, rebuttable, presumption with a minimum of 35% of the parenting time allocated to each parent for children to reap the benefits of JPC. They also agreed that conflict between parents or one parent’s opposition to JPC should not preclude or rebut JPC.

Perhaps my favorite article is Prof. Edward Kruk’s. He summarizes arguments against shared parenting and the science used to support them. Unsurprisingly, there’s little to argue against shared parenting and those who do wax desperate in their claims.

Top among them are the beliefs that children will inevitably be harmed by being forced to live with an abusive or negligent parent and that judges will be unable to protect children from being placed in JPC when they believe this is not in children’s best interests. As Kruk explains, these arguments have failed to find support in the empirical data and are based more on speculation, fear, and opinion than on data.

Patrick Parkinson provides the view from Australia where, in 2006, significant reforms to child custody laws were made.

Largely quelled by Australian researchers whose work failed to find more negative outcomes for children after the legislative reforms, the battle has now largely come to a peaceful end. Parkinson cautions us, however, not to exaggerate the impact of revising custody laws, as custody arrangements are influenced by more than just legislation.

Indeed. The many judges who are biased against any but maternal custody will likely not be reformed, regardless of the reform of the statutes under which they’re supposed to adjudicate child custody cases.

Fabricius, et al then provide the results of their study of attitudes about shared parenting following Arizona’s reform of child custody statutes. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that, although the new statute did not establish a presumption of shared parenting, judges and lawyers have overwhelmingly acted as if it did.

Four years after the law’s implementation, court staff, judges, mental health providers, and attorneys evaluated the new law positively in terms of being in children’s best interests.

Austin deals with parental gatekeeping.

Austin explains how evaluators can incorporate research on gatekeeping, attachment theory, social capital, and JPC into their work. Because restrictive gatekeeping works against JPC arrangements, evaluators have to be able to recognize how gatekeeping works and to distinguish between warranted gatekeeping that protects children and unwarranted gatekeeping that undermines or sometimes destroys their relationships with one parent.

Appropriately, the zinger comes last.

After analyzing studies that have applied the most sophisticated designs, Braver and Votruba conclude that JPC probably is the “cause” of children’s better outcomes. Based on their analyses, they reassure social scientists that they can now provisionally recommend a rebuttable presumption of JPC to policymakers.

Causality of course is the gold standard. If that can ever be proven, the game is over. I’ve never thought it was necessary, but proven causality would be yet another powerful argument for shared parenting. My take has always been that the overwhelming weight of existing science supports shared parenting and that, since its benefits cut across all the usual demographic boundaries of race, class, sex, education, income, religion, etc., the argument in favor of shared parenting is simply far stronger than the argument against. And since judges must do one thing or the other in individual cases, it only makes since for them to lean toward shared parenting.

Whatever the case, I’ll be posting more on the special issue in the near future.

 

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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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