August 21, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Social scientists, mental health professionals and advocates for family law reform from 14 different countries have called for governments to actively promote shared parenting following divorce or separation. Read about it here (Two Homes.com, 8/13/13). The International Platform on Shared Parenting met in Bonn, Germany last week to review the latest research on shared parenting and to urge governments to alter family laws and court practices accordingly. The National Parents Organization is proud to be a part of this excellent organization and for NPO’s Chairman of the Board, Ned Holstein to be a presenter at the conference.
Other luminaries included Dr. Edward Kruk of the University of British Columbia, who is one of the best-informed and most powerful advocates of shared parenting anywhere. Peter Tromp, president of the Dutch Father Knowledge Center and Secretary General of the Platform for European Fathers also added his extensive expertise and strong voice to the conference.
Shared parenting, with an equal standing of both parents, has been proved to be in the best interests of children, because they can stay in a meaningful relationship with both their mother and their father after separation or divorce. Shared parenting reconciles family and work. Shared parenting provides benefits to society.
“We must extinguish the flames of conflict between separated parents so that children can benefit from the support of their mothers and fathers. There must be more widespread awareness, acceptance and implementation of shared parenting as a viable and preferred solution among the public and involved professions.”
This resolution was adopted at the Kick-off Workshop of the International Platform on Shared Parenting (twohomes.org) held in Bonn, Germany, on 10-11 August 2013. This new organisation brings together the best of evidence-based research and modern best practices on shared parenting…
Angela Hoffmeyer, initiator of the international cooperation, underlined: “Across Western societies there is increased enthusiasm for shared parenting. Our aim is to raise awareness of the benefits of this living arrangement for children and to overcome reservations still prevailing in the legal system.”
Recent Swedish research revealed that children in separated families with shared parenting experienced less bullying than those with only one involved parent. Previous research from three continents had already shown that after parental separation, children long for both parents and suffer when they have only little contact with one of them. Those with shared parenting do better in school and have lower rates of psychological problems, child abuse, substance abuse, behavioural problems, developmental problems, delinquency and teenage pregnancy.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of family law and the practice of family court judges throughout the Western world and elsewhere (such as India), is their almost complete disregard for the clear teachings of social science. As Dr. Kruk has summarized and a huge amount of social science spanning four decades has shown, shared parenting post-divorce with both parents as equals tends to promote child welfare and ameliorate conflict between the parents. And yet, courts ignore that clear teaching. Year after year, family courts award primary custody of children to mothers, relegating fathers to mere visitors in their children’s lives.
As a result, and again demonstrated by social science, when a father is ordered to have no more contact with his child than two weekends a month plus perhaps one night per week, he quickly becomes a non-parent. Researcher Dr. Susan Stewart called these men “Disneyland Dads” to highlight the fact that they become more entertainers of their children than real parents. The mother’s remarriage further marginalizes the children’s father in their lives. The result of the court’s order plus Mom’s remarriage is effectively the loss of the father to the children and the children to the father.
That this has been well-shown to be detrimental to the children both in the short and long terms seems to make no difference to courts which, year after year, continue issuing the same orders. Of course, in state after state, country after country, those same courts intone the mantra of the “best interests of the child,” as they’re required to do by law. Supposedly, judges’ every decision about children is made “in their best interests.” But of course what they do is the opposite of what’s in the child’s best interests as shown by the social science on family structure and child well-being. In the absence of a judicial crystal ball, when it comes to a child’s best interests, the smart money is on equally-shared parenting.
Perhaps their ignorance is not surprising given the fact that judges receive no training whatsoever in that social science. Indeed, when fathers’ rights advocates asked the British Judicial College what social science the college uses to educate judges regarding child well-being, the terse and somewhat indignant reply was that judges are given no such training. The Judicial College, they were informed, had no social science and wouldn’t use it if it did. The same is true, apparently everywhere. If there’s a single jurisdiction on the planet that teaches family court judges the basics of child welfare as described by the science thereon, I’ve never seen nor heard about it.
But it’s not just judges who are at fault.
Parents organisations, family professionals and scientists from 14 countries in Europe and North America called upon governments, judges, lawyers, mediators and social workers to promote peace between parents and to develop new ways of helping families to operate better after separation.
Judges, blissfully unaware of the science on child well-being, are to a great extent hamstrung by laws passed by equally unaware legislators. Time and again elected officials have refused to pass bills that would establish a presumption of shared parenting, almost invariably at the behest of family lawyers who fear that the reduction in conflict occasioned by such a presumption would result in a corresponding reduction in attorney fees. Again, legislators know little or nothing about the social science on the matter and act accordingly.
The same is true of mediators and many mental health professionals. The former are generally ignorant of the science on family structure and child well-being and the latter, often enough, have been steeped in the anti-male hocus-pocus peddled in schools of social work.
Will governments ever listen? For over a decade Canadians have made known their preference for shared parenting. Huge majorities ranging from 65% to 75% have repeatedly expressed their opinion that equal parenting is best for kids. Kids have too. In the only study to ask what children wanted post-divorce, over 70% said they wanted equal time with both parents. Despite a bill before Parliament to establish a presumption of shared parenting, nothing has been done. The representatives of the Canadian people are uninterested in the desires of the Canadian people on the subject.
England? The coalition government was voted into office in part on a promise to reform family law. The process has been a dismal failure, resulting in a bill that makes rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic look like violent revolution. If passed, nothing will change for fathers and their children.
Australia passed legislation that would have had a positive effect on father-child relationships post-divorce. But before the ink was dry, anti-father feminist groups claimed it already had sown confusion and increased abuse. None of their claims was rooted in fact and indeed couldn’t have been, given that there was essentially no data on the effects of the new law. But elected officials rushed to roll back the reforms anyway.
In the U.S. the first presumption of equal parenting was passed by both houses of the Minnesota legislature only to be vetoed by the governor on the utterly specious basis that the matter needed more study. This is a state that’s had a shared parenting bill before it for 13 consecutive years. More study? Nonsense.
And so it goes. We know what’s best for children — shared parenting. But everyone from governors to legislators to judges to all those who make their livings off the bitterness between divorcing parents stand against it. Meanwhile, children suffer.
The National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
The 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. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting. Thank you for your activism.