Shared parenting beneficial for children despite conflict

Putting aside differences in order to minimise a child's exposure to inter-parental conflict in a divorce is a laudable goal.

But the Family Justice Courts could benefit from a scientific perspective on the impact of shared care and control orders, in which a child spends substantial time with both parents (Both parents in divorce have to ensure that kids' interest comes first; March 9).

The Family Justice Courts is correct that social science research supports the importance of protecting children from inter-parental conflict.

But the idea that balancing a child's time more evenly between parents subjects the child to additional stress if parents do not put their personal conflicts aside does not stand the test of science.

Children can be exposed to as much conflict when they see their father 20 per cent of the time as if they see him more often.

In fact, sharing time allows for fewer transfers between homes and, thus, fewer times when the child sees both parents at the same time.

We can further protect children from the tension between their parents by arranging for the transfers to occur at school or at community agencies.

High quality parent-child relationships are more important than low conflict or cooperative co-parenting. And high quality relationships need sufficient time to develop and flourish.

A robust literature of 60 studies involving more than 40,000 children who spent substantial time with both parents unequivocally affirms the value of shared parenting in normal circumstances, even when one parent opposes the arrangement and the parents sustain levels of high conflict, a conclusion endorsed by 110 social scientists.

The fact that joint physical custody children had better outcomes even when a parent initially opposed the plan, and even when conflict was high, suggests that parental conflict has been oversold as the main factor linked to children's post-divorce adjustment.

Restricting children's time with one parent when a couple is labelled "high conflict" deprives children of the protective buffer of a nurturing relationship with that parent.

In predicting positive outcomes, high quality parent-child relationships are more important than low conflict or cooperative co-parenting. And high quality relationships need sufficient time to develop and flourish.

Thus, as we strive to minimise children's exposure to their parents' conflicts, let us ensure that children have substantial time with each parent to enjoy all the benefits that two parents can offer.

Richard A. Warshak (Professor)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2018, with the headline 'Shared parenting beneficial for children despite conflict'. Print Edition | Subscribe