Co-Parenting After Divorce

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Research Consensus Statement on Co-Parenting After Divorce

Conclusions of the First International Conference on Shared Parenting

The First International Conference on Shared Parenting has just concluded, a conference organized by the International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP), the first international interdisciplinary organization of divorce scholars and family (medical, legal and mental health) practitioners interested in issues related to co-parenting after divorce. The aim of the Council is to develop evidence-based approaches to the needs and rights of children whose parents are living apart, and to explore the feasibility of shared parenting in different child and family contexts. The theme of the Council's first annual conference was, “Bridging the Gap between Empirical Evidence and Socio-Legal Practice,” and it drew delegates from over twenty countries to Bonn, Germany, from the scientific, family profession and civil society sectors.

This was the first such gathering of scholars, practitioners and NGO representatives specializing in the field of co-parenting. A wide range of topics as well as perspectives were discussed and debated, and by the end of the conference the delegates were challenged in regard to arriving at key conclusions. Nevertheless, after a lot of hard work a consensus emerged on a number of important issues. The conference conclusions are seen to be groundbreaking as a consensus statement was produced by the world's leading researchers and practitioners in the field of co-parenting after divorce, which is intended to serve as a guide for family lawmakers, policymakers, and practitioners around the globe.

The conference arrived at the following six major areas of consensus:

1. There is a consensus that neither the discretionary best interests of the child standard nor sole custody or primary residence orders are serving the needs of children and families of divorce. There is a consensus that shared parenting is a viable post-divorce parenting arrangement that is optimal to child development and well-being, including for children of high conflict parents. The amount of shared parenting time necessary to achieve child well being and positive outcomes is a minimum of one-third time with each parent, with additional benefits accruing up to and including equal (50-50) parenting time, including both weekday (routine) and weekend (leisure) time.

2. There is consensus that "shared parenting" be defined as encompassing both shared parental authority (decision-making) and shared parental responsibility for the day-to-day upbringing and welfare of children, between fathers and mothers, in keeping with children's age and stage of development. Thus "shared parenting" is defined as, "the assumption of shared responsibilities and presumption of shared rights in regard to the parenting of children by fathers and mothers who are living together and apart."

3. There is a consensus that national family law should at least include the possibility to give shared parenting orders, even if one parent opposes it. There is a consensus that shared parenting is in line with constitutional rights in many countries and with international human rights, namely the right of children to be raised by both of their parents.

4. There is a consensus that the following principles should guide the legal determination of parenting after divorce: (1) shared parenting as an optimal arrangement for the majority of children of divorce, and in their best interests. (2) parental autonomy and self-determination. (3) limitation of judicial discretion in regard to the best interests of children.

5. There is a consensus that the above apply to the majority of children and families, including high conflict families, but not to situations of substantiated family violence and child abuse. There is a consensus that the priority for further research on shared parenting should focus on the intersection of child custody and family violence, including child maltreatment in all its forms, including parental alienation.

6. There is a consensus that an accessible network of family relationship centres that offer family mediation and other relevant support services are critical in the establishment of a legal presumption of shared parenting, and vital to the success of shared parenting arrangements.

These six consensus statements reflect the findings of divorce scholars from around the globe, over the past decade in particular, during which over thirty major studies comparing child and family outcomes in shared and sole parenting homes have been completed. They also complement the recent (2014) consensus report by 110 child development experts, "Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children," published in the APA journal, Psychology, Public Policy and Law.

The second annual conference of the ICSP is scheduled for May 28-30, 2015, in Bonn, Germany. The intersection of shared parenting and family violence will constitute a major theme of the upcoming conference.

ICSP Website: www.twohomes.org/en_home

Edward Kruk, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, specializing in child and family policy.

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