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International Consensus on Co-Parenting

Looking back on 10 years of research on shared parenting.

Key points

  • International parenting researchers agree that co-parenting is in the best interests of most children of divorce.
  • Children do best when they spend at least one-third and up to one-half of their time with each parent.
  • Shared parenting may not be appropriate for all divorces, particularly when family violence or abuse is present.
  • However, even high-conflict families can benefit from shared parenting in most cases.

The International Council on Shared Parenting is an organization devoted to the study of co-parenting and the best interests of children after parental separation. The Council’s stated goals are, first, the advancement of scientific knowledge on the needs and best interests of children whose parents are living apart, and second, to formulate evidence-based recommendations about the legal, judicial, and practical implementation of shared parenting.

Over the years, the Council has compiled a large database of new research on child and family outcomes in shared parenting families and seeks to integrate this scientific knowledge into family law and professional practice. As a member of the Council, I believe that our main accomplishment has been the publication of a series of consensus statements about shared parenting and the best interests of children.

For example, the first of our six conclusions, released in 2014, stated: “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." We concluded that the best way to promote a child's well-being is for them to spend at least one-third of their time with each parent; the closer that time got to 50-50, the more benefits would accrue.

Our second consensus statement ended with seven conclusions, including that "the legal implementation of shared parenting, including both 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 or apart, [should] be enshrined in law.”

At our 2018 conference, the Council sought to determine whether we had reached the point where we could reasonably conclude that the best interests of children are commensurate with a rebuttable legal presumption of shared parenting responsibility for children and families. Were we at a point, in other words, where the scientific evidence points in the direction of mandating that shared parenting becomes the foundation of family law?

The answer to these questions was distilled by Dr. Sanford Braver: “I think shared parenting now has enough evidence... [that] the burden of proof should now fall to those who oppose it rather than those who promote it.” Our fourth conference took this further, calling upon the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, governments, and professional associations to identify shared parenting as a fundamental right of children.

Our fifth conference, in 2020, focused on the intersection of shared parenting and family violence. The conference demonstrated the degree to which the state of knowledge about family violence in contested child custody cases has advanced significantly in recent years.

The seven conclusions of this conference were divided into recommendations for theoretical development and further research on the one hand, and law reform, policy, and professional practice on the other. It was affirmed that shared parenting is a viable post-divorce parenting arrangement that is optimal for child development and well-being, including for children of high-conflict parents.

Shared parenting serves as a bulwark against first-time family violence. We thus supported a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting in contested cases of child custody, and advocate for shared parenting as the foundation of family law reform.

At the same time, we came to the conclusion that shared parenting is an optimal arrangement for the majority of children and families, including high-conflict families, but not for situations of substantiated family violence and child abuse. We thus supported a rebuttable legal presumption against shared parenting in family violence cases.

The Council brings together three distinct groups in ongoing dialogue: scientists in the field of shared parenting who are able to disseminate their current research; child and family legal and mental health practitioners who specialize in the area of parental separation and are able to share information on best practices with children and families; and members of the public who are actively involved in the politics of law reform to establish shared parenting as the foundation of family law.

The Sixth International Conference on Shared Parenting will be held May 5 to 7, 2023, in Athens.

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