Research Cautions Courts from Emphasizing Parental Conflict in Child Custody Arrangements



 

 

New research published in an American Psychological Association journal reveals that how much parents fight has been greatly overemphasized in deciding custody arrangements for children whose parents have separated or divorced. National Parents Organization encourages state legislators and judges to take notice of this latest research.

“Parental conflict has been the single most-cited reason for denying joint physical custody (‘shared parenting’) to good parents. But now, we see that decades of often-forgotten research reveals that parental conflict is far less important in children’s happiness after divorce than previously believed,” said Ned Holstein, MD, Founder and Board Chair of National Parents Organization. “Since numerous other studies show that most children fare much better with shared parenting after parental separation or divorce, the over-emphasis on parental conflict is depriving millions of children of what they most need: the love and guidance of both parents.” 

After re-examining the research on parental conflict and custody arrangements, Prof. Linda Nielsen of Wake Forest University concluded that the best research currently available suggested that the quality of the parent–child relationship was more closely linked to children’s outcomes than parental conflict or the quality of the co-parenting relationship. She recognized that this conclusion does not hold for the most severe forms of parental conflict.

In a recent issue of Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Nielsen’s article “Re-examining the Research on Parental Conflict, Co-parenting and Custody Arrangements,” stated: “In other words, the role of conflict has too often been exaggerated and should not be the determining factor in child custody decisions or in regard to JPC [joint physical custody] arrangements except in those situations where the children need protection from an abusive or negligent parent. While continuing our efforts to reduce parent conflict and to improve the co-parenting relationship, we should be equally — or perhaps even more — invested in helping both parents strengthen their relationships with their children and improve their parenting skills.”

Nielsen’s research is just the latest in the growing consensus supporting shared parenting. The numerous others include: 

  • In a social science and parenting consensus report, 110 child development experts found that “… shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children.”
  • 32 family law experts in the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts concluded, “Children’s best interests are furthered by parenting plans that provide for continuing and shared parenting relationships that are safe, secure, and developmentally responsive and that also avoid a template calling for a specific division of time imposed on all families.”

Amid this growing consensus, more and more states are considering whether shared parenting should be the norm, not the exception. About 25 states have proposed laws in recent years to implement it, according to The Wall Street Journal. In the past year, for example, Missouri enacted a bill supportive of shared parenting bill, and Kentucky’s new shared parenting law took effect July 1.

Dr. Holstein said: “Our family court system, which awards sole custody to mothers more than 80 percent of the time, needs to recognize its excessive concern with low and moderate degrees of parental conflict and instead strive for shared parenting in most cases. It’s time to abide by the scientific evidence and take the guesswork out of child custody decisions.” 

Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.

A regular contributor to local and national media, Dr. Holstein is Founder and Chair of the Board of National Parents Organization. Dr. Holstein was appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts to the Massachusetts Working Group on Child-Centered Family Law, and he was previously appointed by a Massachusetts Chief Justice to a task force charged with reviewing and revising the state’s child support guidelines.

A graduate of Harvard College, Holstein also earned a Master’s degree in psychology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His medical degree is from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he later served on the faculty as a teacher and researcher. 

National Parents Organization, a charitable and educational 501 (c)(3) organization, seeks better lives for children through family law reform that establishes equal rights and responsibilities for fathers and mothers after divorce or separation. The organization is focused on promoting shared parenting and preserving a child’s strong bond with both parents, which is critically important to their emotional, mental, and physical health. In 2014, National Parents Organization released the Shared Parenting Report Card, the first study to rank the states on child custody laws. Visit the National Parents Organization website at www.nationalparentsorganization.org