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