Aussie Paper Misrepresents Study in Order to Oppose Shared Parenting

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, here at and Fathers & Families, we’re all about equally shared parenting post divorce or separation. That stems from the well-established fact that children of two-parent families do better than those of single-parent families. As far back as 1994, sociologist David Popenoe could say that,

[I]n three decades of work as a social scientist, I know of few other bodies of data in which the weight of evidence is so decisively on one side of the issue: on the whole, for children, two-parent families are preferable to single-parent and stepfamilies.

So equally-shared parenting is, above all, an effort to maintain two parents in a child’s life after a divorce or separation has occurred. The concept acknowledges what we know to be true about what promotes child wellbeing. So when an article flickered across my screen entitled “Study finds shared parenting detrimental to children,” I was immediately interested. Think about the ears on a German Shepherd when he hears an intruder and you get an idea of my level of interest. Here’s the article itself (Adelaide Now, 5/21/10). It’s a piece out of Australia and refers to a study done by Dr. Alan Campbell of the University of South Australia. I urge you to click on the link and read the article. What do you learn from it? Well, it seems to say that (a) there were changes to the Family Law of Australia in 2006 that encouraged equally shared parenting, (b) Dr. Campbell did a study of children inquiring into the effects of shared parenting on child wellbeing, (c) the results tell us something about the new law and (d) the results show that shared parenting is detrimental to children. However, you might be surprised to learn that only (a) above is true. When I read the article, I emailed Dr. Campbell asking to see his research, he promptly and courteously responded, and provided both the original report of his research and a short article about it that he’d published. Having read both, I have to say that I find his results fascinating and will post an entire piece on them soon. Although his sample size is extremely small, his findings suggest some important things about how family courts should conduct themselves in custody matters. So, more on that later. For now, suffice it to say that the article that claimed that a study had found shared parenting detrimental to children was simply false. In fact, Dr. Campbell’s study had nothing to do with shared parenting whatsoever. Indeed, of the children he interviewed for his study, at most two and possibly none, had parents in equally-shared parenting relationships. Also, it was reported in 2008 about a study that had been done prior to that and so in no way reflected anything about the changes to the Family Law Act enacted by the Howard government in 2006. Here’s a brief sketch of what Dr. Campbell did: he interviewed 16 children between the ages of seven and 17 whose parents were either divorced or separated. Interviewers asked the children many questions, but the intention of the study was to find out their thoughts and opinions on the decision-making process in child custody matters. His findings include (a) parents and courts don’t tend to ask children what they prefer (b) children have opinions about what’s right and fair, (c) children would like to be consulted about their desires, thoughts, ideas, etc., (d) children have a strong desire to be fair to both parents, and (e) children think families can decide issues of custody better than can court-appointed experts. If anyone sees anything in that about shared parenting being detrimental to children, let me know. In fact, the Adelaide Now piece comes with a historical and political context. It comes at a time when anti-father forces are desperately trying to roll back the slight improvements to fathers’ rights made by the 2006 amendments to the Family Law Act. The Adelaide Now article is part of that effort and, given its astonishing lack of intellectual honesty, provides a strong indication of how little the anti-dad crowd has on its side.

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