February 8, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Warshak’s recent article deals with issues relating to parental conflict and parenting time. Professor Linda Nielsen has exhaustively analyzed the science on that and I’ve reported on her findings. So I won’t reprise that now.

Warshak’s piece lays waste the efforts of McIntosh, et al and Tornello, et al to cast doubt on the wisdom of overnights for very young children with their fathers. His consensus analysis of the science on that, endorsed by 110 scientists worldwide, makes the following recommendations for policy-makers and family courts:

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 longterm 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. We recognize that some parents and situations are unsuitable for shared parenting, such as those mentioned in point #7 below.

2. Young children’s interests benefit when two adequate parents follow a parenting plan that provides their children with balanced and meaningful contact with each parent while avoiding a template that calls for a specific division of time imposed on all families.

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. Child developmental theory and data show that babies normally form attachments to both parents and that a parent’s absence for long periods of time jeopardizes the security of these attachments. Evidence regarding the amount of parenting time in intact families and regarding the impact of daycare demonstrates that spending half time with infants and toddlers is more than sufficient to support children’s needs. Thus, to maximize children’s chances of having good and secure relationships with each parent, we encourage both parents to maximize the time they spend with their children. Parents have no reason to worry if they share parenting time up to 50/50 when this is compatible with the logistics of each parent’s schedule.

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. We find the theoretical and practical considerations favoring overnights for most young children to be more compelling than concerns that overnights might jeopardize children’s development. Practical considerations are relevant to consider when tailoring a parenting plan for young children to the circumstances of the parents. Overnights create potential benefits related to the logistics of sharing parenting time. Parents of young children are more likely than parents of older children to be at an early stage in their career or employment at which they have less flexibility and control over their work schedules. Parenting schedules that offer the father and child two-hour blocks of time together, two or three times per week, can unduly stress their contacts. Overnights help to reduce the tension associated with rushing to return the child, and thus potentially improve the quality and satisfaction of the contact both for the parent and child. Overnights allow the child to settle in to the father’s home, which would be more familiar to the child who regularly spends the night in the home compared with one who has only one-hour segments in the home (allowing for transportation and preparation for the return trip). Spending the night allows the father to participate in a wider range of bonding activities, such as engaging in bedtime rituals and comforting the child in the event of nighttime awakenings. An additional advantage of overnights is that in the morning the father can return the child to the daycare; this avoids exposing the child to tensions associated with the parents’ direct contact with each other.

Nonetheless, because of the relatively few studies currently available, the limitations of these studies, and the predominance of results that indicate no direct benefit or drawback for overnights per se outside the context of other factors, we stop short of concluding that the current state of evidence supports a blanket policy or legal presumption regarding overnights. Because of the well-documented vulnerability of father-child relationships among never-married and divorced parents, and the studies that identify overnights as a protective factor associated with increased father commitment to child rearing and reduced incidence of father drop-out, and because no study demonstrates any net risk of overnights, decision makers should recognize that depriving young children of overnights with their fathers could compromise the quality of their developing relationship.

5. Parenting plans that provide children with contact no more than six days per month with a parent, and require the children to wait more than a week between contacts, tax the parent-child relationships. This type of limited access schedule risks compromising the foundation of the parent-child bond. It deprives children of the type of relationship and contact that most children want with both parents. The research supports the growing trend of statutory law and case law that encourages maximizing children’s time with both parents. This may be even more important for young children in order to lay a strong foundation for their relationships with their fathers and to foster security in those relationships.

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. Maintaining children’s attachment relationships with each parent is an important consideration when developing parenting plans. The likelihood of maintaining these relationships is maximized by reducing the lengths of separations between children and each parent and by providing adequate parenting time for each parent. Such arrangements allow each parent to learn about the child’s individual needs and to hone parenting skills most appropriate for each developmental period. The optimal frequency and duration of children’s time with each parent will differ among children, depending on several factors such as their age and their parents’ circumstances, motivations, and abilities to care for the children. Other important considerations include children’s unique relationship histories with each parent and their experience of each parent’s care and involvement. In each case where it is desirable to foster the parentchild relationship, the parenting plan needs to be sensitive to the child’s needs, titrating the frequency, duration, and structure of contact.

7. Our recommendations apply in normal circumstances, for most children with most parents. The fact that some parents are negligent, abusive, or grossly deficient in their parenting—parents whose children would need protection from them even in intact families—should not be used to deprive the majority of children who were being raised by two loving parents from continuing to have that care after their parents separate. Also, our recommendations apply to children who have relationships with both parents. If a child has a relationship with one parent and no prior relationship with the other parent, or a peripheral, at best, relationship, different plans will serve the goal of building the relationship versus strengthening and maintaining an existing relationship.

To readers of this blog, none of this is new. From the earliest days of a child’s life, shared parenting is in the child’s best interest, assuming capable, nonviolent parents. Children form attachments to both parents and suffer when one of those attachments is broken or greatly attenuated. It’s simple and non-threatening to anyone but the few researchers who seem dead set on marginalizing fathers in the lives of their children.

So what’s happened in the four years since the consensus report was published? Two researchers, Linda Nielsen and Karina Sokol further demolished the work of McIntosh and Tornello and

The third recent study is a peer-reviewed study of 116 college students, which found better outcomes for those who, in the first three years of life, spent overnights with their fathers after their parents separated. The more overnights that infants and toddlers spent with their fathers, up to half of all overnights, the higher the quality and the more secure were their long-term relationships with fathers and mothers. The young adults who had more overnights in infancy felt closer to both parents and were more certain that they were important to their parents.

Meanwhile, the findings and conclusions of the consensus report not only have withstood the test of time, but haven’t even been attacked.

But in the nearly four years since its publication, no article, including the only critique of the consensus report, by McIntosh et al., has explicitly identified any errors in the report or disputed any of its conclusions and recommendations.

Given its thoroughgoing destruction of their shabby work, we might think that McIntosh and Tornello would strike back out of pride if nothing else. But they haven’t. In four years, the consensus report remains the gold standard regarding overnights for young children.

Warhsak’s paper is entitled “Stemming the Tide of Misinformation.” It appears his consensus report has done just that.

 

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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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