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The Intersection of Shared Parenting and Family Violence

Conference will bring together co-parenting and domestic violence experts.

Family violence and its impact on children continue to pose serious questions for professionals and policymakers in the field of child custody and divorce.

To address these questions, family violence specialists, mediators, mental health workers, lawyers, and the judiciary are increasingly working together to understand the complex consequences of family violence. Concurrently, scholars and practitioners in the field of co-parenting have found that shared parenting is an effective tool to decrease conflict among separating parents, and a mechanism to prevent first-time family violence during the divorce transition period. This is because “winner-take-all” adversarial processes and sole custody or primary residence orders are strongly associated with exacerbation or creation of parental conflict, and fully half of the first-time family violence occurs within the context of custody conflict. We may assume that when primary parent-child relationships are threatened, the risk of violence rises; when neither parent is threatened by the loss of his or her children, such a risk diminishes.

Family violence in intimate relationships represents a complex multifaceted phenomenon and may be defined as any use or threat of physical, psychological, emotional or economic intimidation, coercion or force that a child or adult experiences from a family member or an intimate partner. There are distinct forms of family violence and abuse based on a general pattern of controlling behaviors used by a perpetrator to exert general control over his or her partner.

In intimate relationships where violence is embedded in a general pattern of control, an abuser acts as if he or she owns and controls his or her partner with the right to deny her or him an existence separate from his or her own. In this context, abuse functions to secure power and control for the abuser and to undermine the safety, security, self-esteem, and autonomy of the abused person. There are also types of family violence and abuse that are not connected to a general pattern of control. This violence involves specific arguments that escalate to violence and abuse.

The heightened awareness of the predicament of victims of family violence during and after parental separation and divorce and the shared parenting community's commitment to high standards of practice and the best interests of children have forced a re-examination of if, when and how, shared parenting can be adapted and applied safely and fairly when family violence is a factor. More than ever, legal and mental health professionals throughout North America are looking to leaders in the field for guidance in these matters, only to find that there are as yet no established or universally applied standards of practice in cases of family violence. The International Council on Shared Parenting has been at the forefront of efforts to provide a forum to establish these standards and has devoted its 2020 conference to this issue.

The theme of the Fifth International Conference on Shared Parenting, to be hosted by the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, will be, “The Intersection of Shared Parenting and Family Violence.” The conference has been reformatted and rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is now scheduled as an online conference to take place in December, 2020.

The purpose of the conference will be to help national and international shared parenting associations devise and promulgate standards of practice, policies, and protocols for the safe, fair and specialized practice of facilitating shared parenting in cases involving family violence. Central to this effort is the affirmation of a rebuttable presumption against shared parenting in cases of family violence. The goal of the conference will be to develop policies and guidelines for legislators, policymakers and professional practitioners with respect to best practices in the area of parenting after divorce when family violence has been or has the potential to be an issue of concern. The conference has a number of specific objectives: differentiating high conflict and family violence, and implications for shared parenting arrangements; evaluating the impact of shared parenting in the prevention of family violence; developing guidelines for family violence education and training of divorce practitioners helping families develop parenting plans after separation; developing screening procedures for family violence; establishing safety and specialized procedures when family violence has been or has the potential to be an issue of concern; the logistics of a rebuttable legal presumption against shared parenting in situations of family violence; and developing alternatives to shared parenting in the context of family violence.

This will be the first conference to bring together leading scholars and practitioners from two distinct fields, shared parenting, and family violence. There is an urgent need for both groups to collaborate on research on the intersection of shared parenting and family violence. In recent years, efforts at dialogue and collaboration have increased among researchers and family professionals in the two fields. They are starting, albeit cautiously, to address cooperatively and constructively the benefits and risks associated with co-parenting and the unique needs of victims of family violence. The conference will provide a forum for scholars and professional practitioners to engage in a facilitated dialogue aimed at the development of policies, procedures, and guidelines when shared parenting and family violence intersect. This will include discussion of both a rebuttable legal presumption of shared parenting and a rebuttable presumption against shared parenting in situations of family violence.

The conference will thus not only be of interest to both the scholarly and professional practice communities but also to the civil society sector and the public at large, concerned with the question of the best interests and well-being of families undergoing divorce. It will also be of interest to both the scholarly and professional practice communities, as well as the civil society sector, working in the field of family violence. concerned with the question of the best interests and well-being of families exposed to domestic violence, especially in the context of parental separation and divorce. Scholars, family professionals and members of civil society are invited to participate in this important event.

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