In 2015, the shared parenting movement gained considerable traction as 20 state legislatures considered laws that would establish the presumption that children will be raised by both parents following a divorce or separation.
That momentum is continuing to build as awareness of the benefits of shared parenting grows and lawmakers continue working to pass laws that ensure children have equal access to both parents.
There have already been some significant developments during the first two months of 2016.
Support for shared parenting grows
National Parents Organization founder and acting executive director Ned Holstein has previously referred to 2014 as a “watershed year” for shared parenting.
That year, the International Council on Shared Parenting met for the first time in Bonn, Germany, and representatives from 20 countries put together a conference statement that shared parenting should be the usual outcome of parental breakups for most children.
Clinical and research psychologist Richard Warshak also published a paper that year in the Journal of the American Psychological Association that stated shared parenting “should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children.” The paper was endorsed by 110 international experts in sociology, psychology, education and child development.
More recently, the Catholic Church endorsed shared parenting after divorce or separation by publishing a full-page spread in its official newspaper.
Not only did the article urge family courts to support shared parenting, but to also ensure the arrangement occurs in practice. It also offered support to legislative efforts encouraging shared parenting.
According to the NPO, this is the first time a major religious body has taken a stance on shared parenting.
Research continues to back shared parenting
Social science has supported shared parenting for years, but a recent Swedish study provided even more clarity about its benefits.
Marlin Bergstrom recently published a study in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, her second shared parenting study in the last year.
Previously, Bergstrom addressed one of the most common criticisms of shared parenting – that shuffling children from one household to the other creates stress that could lead to a host of negative outcomes. By looking at 150,000 children in various living arrangements, Bergstrom found moving children back and forth had no noticeable effect on children’s well-being and was outweighed by the positive effects of maintaining a continued relationship with both parents.
In her most recent study, Bergstrom examined whether the benefits of shared parenting could be explained by factors other than their family living arrangement such as their parents’ post-divorce socioeconomic situation.
The study of 5,000 kids between the ages of 10 and 18 found children in nuclear families and joint custody have roughly the same levels of psychological complaints and those in sole custody arrangements have far more. These findings hold up regardless of the parents’ socioeconomic status or health.
We’ve known for a long time a correlation between a host of positive outcomes and shared parenting existed. This study indicates there is also causation.
Shared parenting bills proposed
Unfortunately, even though the benefits of shared parenting are well-documented, it is still very rare for states to hold the presumption that children should have equal access to both parents.
Only 17 percent of custody cases result in shared parenting, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For the most part, states fail at promoting this arrangement to the detriment of families.
However, many lawmakers are working to reverse that trend.
The Missouri legislature has proposed two companion shared parenting bills in the 2016 session, HB 2055 and SB 964, that would add language to the state’s child custody law to emphasize that the best interest of the child is equal access to both parents. That change would encourage judges to give more credence to the research suggesting shared parenting arrangements are in the child’s best interest.
“Both (bills) use the same language to make clear, that children of divorce or separation, want and need equal access to both FIT and WILLING parents,” wrote Linda Reutzel, NPO’s Missouri contact person. “The bills make it clear that equal access to both FIT and WILLING parents IS in the best interest of children. The language change is a small one to our Statutes, but a very important one in the lives of our children. Research and common sense show that children want and need equal access to both parents and their extended families. It’s in their DNA!”
Last month, the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would make equal child sharing by divorced couples the preferred state policy.
SB 250 would force judges to begin with the assumption that divorced couples equally share child rearing while also giving the judge the authority to alter the arrangement based on 22 criteria, which include issues like schooling and medical care. Should the judge deviate from that arrangement, the reason for doing so would need to be explained in writing.
It is surely frustrating for parents that it is taking this long for courts to catch up and revise laws that are so blatantly outdated and fail to look out for the best interest of families. However, it should be at least somewhat encouraging that the shared parenting movement is continuing to gain steam.