In many parts of the world, shared parenting plans, which entail equal or nearly equal parenting time with both parents, are becoming the norm and law. For example, since 1995, Belgium courts give both parents custody, except in cases where the court rules otherwise, such if there has been abuse. In some parts of the United States, children are spending 1/3 or more of their time with each parent, which is a significant increase from how custody previously had been allocated primarily to the mother.
Is shared parenting something that is in the best interest of the child? A growing consensus of research suggests that the answer is yes. Researchers from around the world have documented a large number of benefits for children and for the parent-child relationship including, but not limited to:
Better physical health of children;
Better mental and psychological health of children (e.g., lower anxiety, better self-esteem);
Less use of alcohol and drugs among children/teenagers;
Better academic performance.
Active daytime and nighttime parenting of both parental figures, not just mothers, promotes a secure lifelong bond and attachment between them. This finding is particularly true for young children. Among families where there has been shared parenting, college aged children also report having a more positive bond with both parents. In addition, when there is high conflict between parents and there is not a shared parenting arrangement, children’s outcomes are significantly worse than when the parenting is shared. Shared parenting has been shown to promote gender equality for mothers and fathers, and reflects a value that men and women are both capable to effectively parent and raise healthy children.
Despite the benefits of shared parenting for children and there being a large amount of public support for such arrangements, there has been a considerable amount of controversy about its application in custody determinations. Legal professionals who have argued that shared parenting arrangements will create more conflict and litigation for families have raised some of the controversy. This argument has not been supported with any facts that such increased litigation will actually occur, and evidence seems to point to the contrary: shared parenting would eliminate much of the conflict around enforcement of parenting time that is common in many families that have dissolved. In addition, mental health and legal professionals have argued that there should not be a “one-size fits all” approach to families and that custody should be awarded based on the individual needs of each family. While in principle this argument seems ideal, in practice it has resulted in considerable amount of subjectivity and bias in custody determinations. This bias has led to greater conflict in families and poorer outcomes for children. Of course, shared parenting presumptions should not be made if there are legitimate concerns about the health and safety of a parent or family. In such cases, protections can be incorporated in parenting plans for the children, while still promoting a positive relationship with both parental figures.
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