The Case for Shared Parenting

There is a groundswell of activity and energy swirling throughout North America as lawmakers take a closer look at shared parenting, also known as joint physical custody.

Despite the best efforts of dinosaur lawyers and jaded feminists to disparage a better model for parenting, shared parenting is a child-centered response to the institutionalized model of parenting that has plagued families far too long.

Based on twentieth century cultural traditions of stay-at-home moms and working dads, the maternal preference was shored up by untested psychological theories about mothers and children that unwittingly led to a template of a “visiting” parent, usually relegated to every second weekend for a total of four nights per month.

The primary caregiver model became the default position without consideration of the quality of parenting, the psychological functioning of each parent, or the history and nature of the parent/child relationship.

Good parents were lumped together with dysfunctional parents because judges relied on precedent, a straight-jacket that we now know has hurt generations of children and needlessly disempowered parents.

Later most jurisdictions added a week night visit for the non-custodial parent. Who are we kidding by using gender neutral language? It’s “Dads” that are marginalized by these entrenched legal and judicial practices.

But the tide is slowly turning as the public clamour for a more civilized way to determine custody, and social science researchers provide empirical evidence that compels a reconsideration of a parenting regime that is far past its due date.

Dr. Joan Kelly, well-known psychologist and parenting researcher, confirms the literature demonstrates numerous benefits to children when their living arrangements enable supportive and loving fathers to be actively involved in their children’s lives on a weekly and regular basis, including overnights. The outcomes for children include better psychological and behavioral adjustment, and enhanced academic performance.

She also notes that children and adolescents who have lived in a shared parenting arrangement are generally satisfied, feel loved, have less feelings of loss, and do not frame their lives through the lens of parental divorce, compared with those who have been placed in the sole custody of their mothers.

With the endorsement of 110 international research scholars, Dr. Richard Warshak recently published “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report” in Psychology, Public Policy and Law 2014 Vol. 20 #1- p.46-67 which concludes that shared parenting should be the norm for children of all ages, including very young children. The consensus was that 50/50 parenting is also indicated where the logistics of the parents’ schedules are compatible with that arrangement.

Of course, it is universally accepted that deficient, negligent or abusive parents, and those that may have mental illness or substance abuse problems will rarely be candidates for shared parenting.

Public sentiment on shared parenting can be illustrated by Massachusetts’ 2004 non-binding election ballot where 85% of voters, numbering 530,000 people, agreed that children should live with both parents following divorce. In another survey of 375 people called for jury duty, 67% of them favoured shared residential parenting. (Braver et al 2011)

Presently seven States promote shared parenting including Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, and Wisconsin. A Florida bill for alimony reform and shared parenting was expected to pass, but was crushed by a veto from Florida’s governor. The proposed amendment sought to increase the minimum amount of parenting time from 25% to 35%.

Connecticut established a Task Force to study the issue of shared parenting, with a report expected this month. In Maryland, legislators initiated a Commission on Child Custody Decision Making with a report due in late 2014.

Canada’s Bill C-560 on shared parenting is scheduled for second reading in the House of Commons in mid-March 2014. In previous iterations of this bill there has been non-partisan support from the Liberals, Conservatives and the Green Party, the latter two include shared parenting in their platforms.

For those who ignore the burgeoning research and say the jury is still out, or those who continue to rely on the tired refrain that shared parenting is impossible with the rancour that accompanies divorce, a new day is dawning.

It can’t come too quickly for Canada’s children.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

26 thoughts on “The Case for Shared Parenting

  1. Thank you Georgialee We at the Conscious Co-Parenting Institute totally agree. The easiest way to prevent Parental Alienation in for a shared parenting arrangement, this gives the child the opportunity to maintain a relationship with both parents. Children have the greatest opportunity to learn the skills of resilience in dealing with high conflict people, which they will encounter throughout their lifetime, when they are able to have a relationship with both of their parents even in high conflict situations. These children learn batter coping skills, acceptance of all people, and gain the understanding that all people have good and bad qualities and behaviors. I am going to reblog on our blog as well. Thank you for posting. Dorcy Pruter:-)

  2. As a child who grew up in a shared parenting situation, I have to agree. It was hard, especially with my mom trying for years to deny my father custody, and the both of them badmouthing one another. But do I think being in the sole custody of my mom would have been better? No. And I’m glad my dad fought so hard to keep her from taking us away from him – as an adult, it means far more to me now than it did as a child, but he spent a lot of money on lawyers to tell me how much he loved me.

  3. Texas does not promote shared parenting as the artcle says. Texas uses ” in the best interest of the child” and that is a FAR cry from shared parenting. There is a growing movement for Share Parenting in Texas, but we are not where Oklahoma and the other states are.

    1. Andrea Thank you for your input and correction. The research I relied on included Texas as a shared parenting state, obviously it was wrong. I have amended the article to correct the error and thank you again. I strive to be as accurate as possible. Best regards, Georgialee

  4. We in North Carolina’s volunteer group KN2P (KidsNeed2Parents) greatly appreciate Georgialee’s message & will share it with our legislators. Too many children are being hurt by the current vague “child’s best interest” standard. Presumed shared parenting IS in the child’s best interest–& our families’ & nations’.

  5. I have written a book supporting shared parenting, and debunking the arguments for the status quo, called “Ideology and Dysfunction in Family Law: How Courts Disenfranchise Fathers.” It is expected to be released in the coming weeks, so be looking for it. It is jointly published by the Canadian Constitution Foundation and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

    Cheers and thanks,
    Grant A. Brown, DPhil (Oxon), LL.B.
    Stratford, Ontario, Canada.

  6. I am told Arizona does support shared parenting by law, but it will still take years if not decades to get that understood by the various court psychologists and the judges who rely on them.

    Basically, I went into court that supported me “by law” but relied on a court psychologist that told me flat out he didn’t believe in parental alienation and that at the age of 14, my girls were old enough to decide who they wanted to be their parent.

    So my ex’s campaign of 6 years of alienation was given its final reward.

    Thanks for your post

  7. I feel so defeated with the court system here in BC. It feels like the judges in provincial court are still clinging to the old mindset and not paying attention to our changing laws. I had mediation today with my ex. We have shared guardianship of my 3 year old son Noah. We share parenting time split down the middle for the past 2 years, he’s with me Wednesday to Sunday. Recently my ex has filed for Primary residency and child support. She has a lawyer and I can’t afford one. It’s confusing for me that all the research I do on the government websites regarding the New family law act emphasize shared parenting time and responsibility, but all the judges still use old terminology like “visitation” and view it with a bias towards the mother. My ex has violated every consent order, alienated me as the father, and even tried to take my son out of Canada (my ex is not a Canadian). No judge cares. They have even ruled orders in her favor. Now she is trying to put even more distance between my son and I, and make me pay, and the judge today told me that I am going to have an “uphill” climb to convince any judge that it would be better for Noah to be with Dad half the time, even though he has been with me the majority of the time and my ex abandoned the home when he was 14 months old. Now I have a hearing to look forward to, where I don’t have a lawyer and I’m in a forum with dinosaur judges that don’t care what I think. If anyone knows how to help, please let me know. I need some guidance here.

    1. Marc,

      I’ve been there. It’s hard enough to play lawyer. It’s even harder when your fighting for your children, Here’s what I learned:

      1) Judges will tell you that hearings are not permanent. Merely ‘Rough Justice’ that seeks a temporary solution, until trial – where the court will look at all the facts with a fresh mind. This is a lie.

      2) In family law, interlocutory orders (temporary orders) are rarely amended. This is especially true if any time has passed between the granting of the orders and the trial date. Judges don’t like to ‘change stuff’. This, of course will be your argument at your upcoming hearing: change of schools, geographic distance from extracurricular, friends, family etc. Get letters from school teachers, coaches and other disinterested third parties, The theme should be how well Noah is doing with you and how a disruption will negatively impact Noah. The court also needs to know that you will happily co-parent with your ex and she will not be restricted from Noah’s activities.

      3) If you consent to an interlocutory order, only do so only on the condition that you have a quick trial date at hand. Inform the court that you are agreeing out of economic necessity (can’t afford a lawyer) and that you intend to aggressively overturn the order at trial. Judges are slow to change a well established status quo only to have it overturned at a trial, 60-days later.

      4) Most importantly: square away your paperwork.

      5) While judges are (usually) kind to unrepresented parents, but they are not your ally. If you ‘want an order’, you have to ‘apply for an order’. The Application for the Order needs to be accompanied by an affidavit (where you will attach your letters). A judge cannot make an Order without a formal Application, in writing. Unlike Judge Judy, you can’t just show up and talk.

      6) Learn how to prepare a binder for the Court. If there is any single thing worth paying a lawyer to teach you how to do, this is it. This will include your application, her response, the affidavits and an index. I also included my case law. This is not entirely kosher, but I found judges liked the simplicity of it. Focus on the merits of the application. The judge will be impressed that you took the time to have your act together. If you ‘show up and cry’, you will lose.

      7) Learn your dates. Nothing is worse than losing because you filed (or delivered your binder) 1-hour too late. Trust me, a hard learned lesson.

      8) Go online and read the opposing lawyers reported cases (Reasons for Judgment). I found it useful fo ‘fold in’ some of the lawyer’s cases in my argument. Something like “ I would ask the Court to consider the case of Smith vs. Jones, where 2-years ago, Mr. Bloggins (opposing counsel) successfully argued that shared time was in the child’s best interest. Today’s facts are indistinguishable and I ask the court to apply the law so aptly created by Mr. Bloggins only a short time ago.” Puts the other side on the defence and usually makes the judge smile.

      9) Wear a suit. If you don’t have a suit, wear a tie. Look like you’re trying.

      10) Children need a mom and a dad. Good luck.

      Good luck,

      1. Dan Very impressed with your analysis of in-person litigation…may I add this to my blog as a guest post, with minor editing? Happy New Year too, and congrats to you and your lovely bride!

      2. Oh absolutely. Sorry for the type-o’s. I ran this off just as we were heading out the door for New Years at the lake. Please feel free to edit as you see fit. Thank you for your thoughtful note. I am a very lucky man. I enjoy your comments a great deal. Pleas keep up the good work. By the way, I only ‘just now’ saw the dates…a tad late, but the sentiment remains the same.

  8. Hi, i have been reading and i will definitely bookmarrk your site, just wanted to say i liked this article.

  9. You can certainly see your skills within the article you write.
    We need more passionate writers
    like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. At all times follow
    your heart.

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