British MP: ‘I will keep fighting to achieve the presumption of shared parenting’

This articletells us that the British MP for Northampton South, Brian Brinley has introduced a bill requiring the presumption of equal parenting post divorce, with certain exceptions which the article doesn’t describe (Northampton Chronicle and Echo, 6/1/11).  One assumes that those include the usual exceptions such as child or spousal abuse, illegal drug use, criminal behavior, etc. And, predictable as the sunrise, his bill has been met with criticism, this time by a research organization, the Nuffield Foundation.

But research funded by the Nuffield Foundation claimed the proposed legislation was not in the interests of children.

Sharon Witherspoon, deputy director of the Nuffield Foundation, said the best parenting arrangements depended on the individual circumstances of each family.

So, straight off the bat, the opponents of children maintaining full relationships with their dads post-divorce drag out the threadbare and patently false notion that, in some way, a presumption of shared parenting would ignore “individual circumstances.” Of course there are those exceptions that would mean that many custody cases would not result in equal parenting time.  More importantly, over 95% of custody matters are agreed to by the parents, and they’d be free to fashion any sort of plan they think is best for them and their kids. Far worse is what the Nuffield Foundation’s website says about shared parenting.

There is no empirical evidence that increasing the amount of time spent with a non-resident parent improves outcomes for children. It is the quality of the relationship between parents and between parents and children, as well as practical resources such as housing and income that are important for children”s well-being, not equal or near equal parenting time.

Hmm.  Where to begin?  It’s true that there’s “no empirical evidence that increasing the amount of time spent with a non-resident parent improves outcomes for children.”  That’s because that particular thing has never been studied.  It’s never been studied because it doesn’t happen very much.  Judges rarely, if ever, begin with the standard every-two-weeks-visitation and then gradually increase dad’s parenting time.  So while Nuffield’s statement is technically correct, it’s one that seems to mean something, but doesn’t. The Nuffield claim assumes that all custody cases must be of the ‘primary parent/visitor model so much in vogue.  But of course that’s exactly what a presumption of equal parenting would do away with.  It may be true that increasing visitation for dad wouldn’t improve his kids lives much if it happens after years of being what sociologist Susan Stewart calls a “Disneyland Dad.” But the whole idea behind equal parenting is for the kids to keep full relationships with both parents post divorce.  And about that the research is overwhelming that doing so is better for children both in the short and long term. Here’sa paper by Dr. Edward Kruk of the University of British Columbia that reprises nicely much of the current empirical science on shared parenting.  For example,

A recent meta-analysis of the major North American studies comparing sole and joint physical custody arrangements has shown that children in joint custody arrangements fare significantly better on all adjustment measures than children who live in sole custody arrangements (Bauserman, 2002). Bauserman compared child adjustment in joint physical and joint legal custody settings with sole (maternal and paternal) custody settings, and also intact family settings, examined children”s general adjustment, family relationships, self-esteem, emotional and behavioral adjustment, divorce-specific adjustment, as well as the degree and nature of ongoing conflict between parents. On every measure of adjustment, children in joint physical custody arrangements were faring significantly better than children in sole custody arrangements: “Children in joint custody arrangements had fewer behavior and emotional problems, higher self-esteem, and better family relations and school performance than children in sole custody arrangements.’ The positive outcomes of joint custody were also evident among high-conflict couples.

If that’s not enough, the children, about whom opponents of fathers’ rights would have us believe they’re so concerned, strongly prefer equally shared custody.

Children of divorce want equal time with their parents and consider shared parenting to be in their best interests. Seventy per cent of children of divorce believe that equal amounts of time with each parent is the best living arrangement for children, and children who have had equal time arrangements have the best relations with each of their parents after divorce (Fabricius, 2003).

And as we know, the usual primary parent/visitor paradigm is often just a cover for de facto sole custody by mom.  As Susan Stewart has described, visitors, even when their visiting time isn’t obstructed by the custodial parent, aren’t true parents because their lack of time with the kids means they make no real parental decisions.  They change from being parents to being entertainers of their children.

From the perspective of children, such de facto sole custody arrangements are woefully inadequate, often resulting in the loss of one of their primary caregivers. From the perspective of both international conventions (U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child) and reports such as that of the Special Joint House of Commons-Senate Committee on Child Custody and Access (1998), such arrangements undermine children”s fundamental need for both parents actively and responsibly involved in their lives.

The simple fact is that the current preferred approach of family courts throughout the English-speaking world results all too often in the loss of one parent by the child.  The child’s father becomes a visitor in the child’s life and often has his visitation interfered with by the mother.  As time goes on, he becomes more and more a marginal figure to his child. And make no mistake, when people argue against shared parenting, that’s what they’re arguing for. If that’s not enough, they’re also reticent to the point of catatonia when it comes to spelling out the actual consequences of their position on shared parenting.  To put it bluntly, even though they don’t admit it (who would?), they’re plumping for the status quo – sole and primary maternal custody with dad reduced to the status of the family wallet. Since that’s what they’re doing, it’s worth asking, “how’s that working out for us?”  Dr. Kruk answers the same way so many others have.

Sole maternal custody often leads to parental alienation and father absence, and father absence is associated with negative child outcomes. Eighty five per cent of youth in prison are fatherless; 71 per cent of high school dropouts are fatherless; 90 per cent of runaway children are fatherless; and fatherless youth exhibit higher levels of depression and suicide, delinquency, promiscuity and teen pregnancy, behavioural problems and illicit and licit substance abuse (Statistics Canada, 2005; Crowder and Teachman, 2004; Ellis et al., 2003; Ringback Weitoft et al., 2003; Jeynes, 2001; Leonard et al., 2005; McCue Horwitz et al,, 2003; McMunn, 2001; Margolin and Craft, 1989; Blankenhorn, 1995; Popenoe, 1996; Vitz, 2000; Alexander, 2003). These studies also found that fatherless youth are more likely to be victims of exploitation and abuse, as father absence through divorce is strongly associated with diminished self-concepts in children (Parish, 1987).

Add to that the fact that Canadian economist Paul Millar has studied the raw data provided him by that country’s statistics-gathering agency, Statistics Canada.  His conclusion is that there is no data to support the notion that children do better in their mothers’ care than in their fathers’.  In fact there’s some to suggest that paternal care would result in better outcomes for children. Against all that and much, much more, Nuffield’s  straw man argument looks thin indeed. I’ve said it before; those who would stand between children and their fathers have a tough row to hoe.  More and more it seems that the only ones buying the snake oil they’re selling are elected officials.  But MP Brian Binley isn’t one of those.

“It seems to me that their view does not take into account all the vital research that shows a father”s involvement in the development of a child”s life, particularly in the early years, is vital to their well-being.

“I will keep fighting in Parliament to achieve the outcome that the presumption of shared parenting is written into the law.’

Good for him.

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