February 21, 2014

“A broad consensus of accomplished researchers and practitioners agree that, in normal circumstances, the evidence supports shared residential arrangements for children under 4 years of age whose parents live apart from each other.”

It is rare that you have a single article that reports the consensus of such a large group of social scientists. The article, Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report, focuses on living arrangements for young children (under 4 years of age). The focus is on young children not because the research shows something different for older children but because opponents of shared residential arrangements have focused their attention on these cases, arguing that it is vital for the children to develop a strong bond with one parent and that requires a sole-custody/visitation living arrangement.

Richard A. Warshak, PhD, a prominent American clinical and research psychologist and author, prepared the draft of this consensus document.  He is best known for his work on divorce, child custody, and parental alienation. The 110 endorsers are an international group of highly accomplished researchers and practitioners, including prominent representatives from the fields of early child development, clinical and forensic psychology, psychiatry, sociology, social work, and counseling.

According to Donald C. Hubin, Ph.D., Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Ohio, and Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, The Ohio State University, “Decades of social science research have shown a growing consensus that there are significant benefits for children when parents living apart share parental responsibilities equally. Multiple studies and meta-studies have confirmed this. Now, finally, we have a consensus report, signed on to by over a hundred researchers and practitioners, confirming this conclusion for young children--the very cases where opponents have frequently focused their attacks on equally shared parenting. Dr. Warshak and 110 other social scientists conclude unequivocally that "in normal circumstances, the evidence supports shared residential arrangements for children under 4 years of age whose parents live apart from each other." Dr. Warshak and his colleagues conclude that "policymakers and decision makers should recognize that depriving young children of overnights with their fathers could compromise the quality of developing father-child relationships." Those legislators and judges who truly aim to promote the best interest of children must pay attention to what the best research we have says promotes those interests: shared residential arrangements.”

For everyone working on making shared parenting and gender equality the norm in family law and reforming family law, this consensus report provides current documentation on the importance of shared parenting for our children. “In sum, based on child development research, policymakers and decision-makers cannot support a priori assumptions that parents of infants and toddlers can be rank ordered as primary or secondary in their importance to the children, and that mothers are more likely to be the “psychologically primary” parents. Further, the research indicates that because infants develop attachment relationships with both of their parents, there is a danger of disturbing one of those relationships by designating one parent as primary and limiting the infant’s time with the other parent. Policies and parenting plans should encourage and maximize the chances that infants will be raised by two adequate and involved parents.”

One of the endorsers and a National Parents Organization member, Gordon E. Finley, Ph.D. Professor of Psychology Emeritus, Florida International University Miami stresses its significance for those of us working to change legislation and educate legislators. "In an advocacy setting — such as divorce — where a variety of parties of varying competence seek to persuade a judge to make an award favoring the party they are advocating for, it is critically important to rely not on "advocacy research" but rather to rely on sound and highly replicated social science research. What Richard A. Warshak and the 110 social scientists who have endorsed this statement have provided  is a clear consensus of the research literature.  If one truly wishes to best serve the "best interests of the child," public policy should be based on the best empirical research. The children of divorce, as well as their parents, are best served when family court judges and state legislators follow the research."

The consensus report ends with recommendations. Of particular note:
“We recognize that many factors such as cultural norms and political considerations affect the type of custody policy that society deems as desirable. To the extent that policy and custody decisions seek to express scientific knowledge about child development, the analyses in this article should receive significant weight by legislators and decision makers.”

“1. Just as we encourage parents in intact families to share care of their children, we believe that the social science evidence on the development of healthy parent– child relationships, and the long-term benefits of healthy parent–child relationships, supports the view that shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children.“

 “3. In general the results of the studies reviewed in this document are favorable to parenting plans that more evenly balance young children’s time between two homes. ...Thus, to maximize children’s chances of having a good and secure relationship with each parent, we encourage both parents to maximize the time they spend with their children.”

“4. Research on children’s overnights with fathers favors allowing children under four to be cared for at night by each parent rather than spending every night in the same home.”

“6. There is no evidence to support postponing the introduction of regular and frequent involvement, including overnights, of both parents with their babies and toddlers.”

Dr. Warshak and his 110 endorsers have created a great tool for all National Parents Organization volunteers and affiliates. Some of you may find it useful for your own case and may even find one of the 110 endorsers in your area who could be helpful for your own case.

Another resource is National Parents Organization’s Information Resources on our website. We have just begun to post materials in the Research and Articles section. Our team has completed the first installment of information about shared parenting in the FAQ’s, Frequently Asked Questions, section. We already have links to forms and documents for every state in the Forms and Documents section.

#Sharedparenting, #Consensusreport, #RichardWarshak, #GordonFinley, #DonHubin

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