The Traditional Notions Have It Wrong

Statistics show that mothers are still awarded full physical custody of children in most court-ordered child custody cases.

One big reason for the inequity is a decades-long belief by judges and others that conflict between divorcing parents will cause too much stress for children. Those wary of establishing shared parenting argue that it places children in the middle of disagreements, pressures them into loyalty conflicts, or forces them to side with one parent against the other.

Their thinking is that it’s better to formally place the children in mom’s household for stability and let dad parent one night a week and every other weekend.

Sweden Has the Highest Rate of Physical Shared Custody in the World

Because Sweden has the highest physical shared custody, it’s probably not surprising they were at the center of a recent study. Researchers analyzed data on more than 800 children in Sweden’s Surveys of Living Conditions. This lead to a report published in Journal of Divorce & Remarriage showing that kids have a harder time missing one of their parents than they do coping with their parents not getting along.

“There has previously been a concern that shared physical custody could be an unstable living situation that can lead to children becoming more stressed,” says researcher Jani Turunen. But, he contends those concerns are built “on theoretical assumptions rather than empirical research.” Shared custody allows children to maintain active relationships with both parents, gives them more resources that each parent has separate access to, and takes away worry over the parent they rarely see.

Linda Nielsen, a Wake Forest University Professor, Agrees

With the important exception of children who need protection from an abusive or negligent parent, “shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children,” said Linda Nielsen, a professor of adolescent and educational psychology at Wake Forest University.

“The role of conflict has too often been exaggerated and should not be the determining factor in child custody decisions,” said Nielsen, who has researched father-daughter bonds for more than 25 years. Her study was published in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

She did not find strong support for the belief that high conflict and poor co-parenting mean poor outcomes for children.

She found that the quality of the parent-child relationship, with both the father and the mother, trumped everything else.

“Forget that it’s divorce,” she said. “Think about growing up in a married home. Of course, it bothers kids when their parents quarrel. Conflict does matter. But what we’re saying is that the quality of your relationship with your parents matters a whole lot more than the parents’ relationship with each other.”

To truly help families move forward with the best interests of children front and center, Nielsen believes, the focus should be on developing programs and policies that strengthen the child’s relationship with each parent and reducing children’s exposure to conflict, “rather than assuming that joint physical custody is not an option.”

States Are Starting to Agree with This Sentiment

Divorces have many difficult aspects, which is why you need an experienced attorney on your side. Chad Foster is a trusted Washington lawyer serving Snohomish and King counties with an office in Bothell. Contact us today to discuss your legal issue.

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