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The International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017, a Watershed Moment

Friday, June 9, 2017 - Equality - Paulette MacDonald - Canadian Coalition for Equal Parenting

Report NPO-ICSP 2017

A truly amazing opportunity to hear, mix and mingle with some of the world’s leading experts on shared parenting from 24 countries in Downtown Boston, MA. While the conference started on the Monday, May 29th, my colleague Vernon Beck of Canada Court Watch (CCW) and I spent 2 days driving and attended the wonderful Pre-Conference Dinner put on by Terry Brennan, Founder of LW4SP, what a wonderful evening.

We got to meet all kinds of wonderful people and experts in the field of equal, shared parenting – the list is too long to mention but some of the photos are attached. We had such a wonderful time, we all got tied up in the discussions revolving around the conference and lost track of time. Lots of great conversations, lots of great food, lots of amazing photos with people that I have known for years, but met for the first time in person. What an amazing experience!

Dr. Ned Holstein, Founder and Chairman of the Board of the National Parents Organization, USA gave the Welcome Addresses – He described the 5 principles: 1 parental rights 2 gender equality, 3 determination of the law (law should be clear in its meaning) 4 approximation rule 5 best interest of the child and how shared parenting honours all those principles. He discussed the 52 research studies on shared parenting, reviewed by Dr. Linda Nielson. He later wrote: “Due to the broad international participation, the high quality of the program, the publicity we were able to attract, the videos that will be distributed and the upcoming publication of the plenary presentations, I believe that this Conference may well have an impact for many years. We asked at the beginning whether a watershed moment had been reached in our understanding of the best interest of the child. At the conclusion of the Conference, I think that from both a scientific and societal perspective, the answer will be yes.”

Dr. Linda Nielson from the Wake Forest University, USA started us off in plenary session 1 with her findings on 52 research studies that supports shared parenting and recognizes that it is not only in the best interest of children, but in the best interest of the parents too.

Robert Franklin of NPO wrote: “Professor Linda Nielsen gave us her conclusions from analyzing all 52 studies of shared parenting in English-language journals. Note that she reviewed every single study, so her conclusions aren’t the result of cherry-picking. In 30 of those studies, children in shared care did better than kids in sole or primary parenting arrangements on every measure of child well-being reported. In 12 studies, they did better or equally well on all measures. In six, they did better on all but one measure and in four the outcomes were equal.”

“In short, there is not a single study of children in shared care that finds sole or primary care to be better, equal or even close to equal to shared parenting.”

Next up was Dr. William Fabricius from Arizona State University, USA and he spoke on overnights and relocation.

The overnights were mostly impacted when the infant is under 1 year of age, because under 1 typically there are zero overnights and that’s even after that issue was addressed through Dr. Warshak’s consensus paper endorsed by 110 scientists worldwide in 2014.

Here’s what Robert Franklin wrote about Fabricius: 
He found that there is a strong and independent relationship between the number of overnights with Dad and a strong father-child relationship when the kids grow up. That might be nothing more than what we’d expect, but the effects of overnights go much further. Overnights with Dad actually were shown to benefit the mother-child relationship as well. Fabricius speculated that the reason for the latter finding could be that more overnights with Dad tended to relieve stress on Mom.

Fabricius’s second reported study dealt with move-aways by mothers. Obviously, relocation by mothers decreased fathers’ parenting time, resulting in damage to the father-child relationship. Relocation tends to communicate to the child that Dad doesn’t matter and that the child matters less to his/her father. Children whose mothers relocated were shown to have more delinquency, more drug and alcohol abuse and greater incidents of depression and anxiety.

Prof. Patrick Parkinson – University of Sydney, Australia also spoke on relocation by one parent and his study found that almost unvaryingly, it was the mother that wanted to move. Parkinson found that 60% of the cases he studied were approved by the courts and almost half of those that were denied found it was better for the children that they didn’t relocate.

Dr. Pamela Ludolph – University of Michigan, USA speaks on; Shared care for very young children: Research, theory, and custody arrangements.

This played out nicely with Fabricius’s presentation. She demonstrated that infants make attachment to both mom and dad at the same time. They tend to start around the 8 month mark. She went on to say that the primary attachment will be with the parent that spends the most amount of time with the infant and how in today’s world when typically both mom and dad work, that one attachment might be with the nanny or day care provider.

She too speaks of Dr. Warshak’s consensus paper and says that mothers don’t need to be burdened by the thought of the baby spending time/overnights with their father.

Dr. Sanford Braver – Arizona State University, USA – Does shared parenting CAUSE better outcomes for children?

Franklin wrote: 
Sanford Braver took on – and mercifully dispatched – the hoary notion that studies demonstrating better child outcomes are simply artifacts of self-selection, i.e. that parents who get along well anyway tend to choose shared parenting. But of course, several studies look at parents who were in considerable conflict, didn't agree to shared parenting and had it imposed on them by a judge. Their children too had better outcomes than those in sole or primary care.

Braver also pointed out that the benefits of shared parenting increase with every increment in parenting time. Therefore, 35% parenting time is good, but 40% is better and 50% is better still.

It is telling when such a prominent and respected member of the scientific community stands up and says that (a) a presumption in favor of shared parenting in child custody cases should now be the law and (b) the burden of proof is now on the opponents of shared parenting to demonstrate otherwise. Sanford Braver did both.

For me, there was no more important moment in the conference than that one. The die is cast. Shared parenting is now the definitive parenting arrangement for non-abusive, fit parents.

Braver told activist it’s “just a matter of time before this (shared parenting) penetrates” and to “keep fighting because we are winning.” She goes on to say, that those who oppose shared parenting are;
• Women’s Advocacy groups,
• Domestic Violence groups, and,
• Bar Association’s

These groups have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, go figure. We’ve known that for a long time – not too long ago the biggest opposition to our equal, shared parenting bill c-560 in Canada, was the Canadian Bar Association. (I’ve attached the Myths and Facts document)

George Piskor wrote: 
The essence of the conference was distilled by Dr. Sandford Braver: “To my mind, we’re over the hump...we’ve reached the watershed. On the basis of this evidence...social scientists can now cautiously recommend presumptive shared parenting to policy makers”. He further added” “I think Shared Parenting now has enough evidence...[that] the burden of proof should now fall to those who oppose it rather than those who promote it”.

Then Robert Franklin wrote: 
Dr. Kari Adamsons looked at quality time for fathers versus the quantity of time they have with their kids. Her unsurprising finding was that, while simple quantity isn’t associated with better outcomes for children and quality time is, fathers need sufficient time with their children in order for some of it to be quality time. A few hours in the afternoon don’t allow him the all-important times including feeding, bathing, reading to, putting to bed and waking up the children in the morning.

Dr. Irwin Sandler too highlighted the necessity of quality time for both parents that robustly predicts better outcomes for children. Without shared parenting, the opportunity for quality time for Dad is lost.

Dr. William Austin is a child custody evaluator. His emphases included an important concept in sociology – that of social capital. We’ve seen sociologists like Sarah McLanahan and Gary Sandefur use the notion of social capital to inquire into what might be causing kids in sole care to do worse than kids in shared care or intact families.

Social capital refers to the larger network of adults and kids available to children who live with both parents or in shared care. They have not only their maternal, but their paternal relatives with whom to interact, learn from and experience life with. Those can in turn develop into business or professional relationships when the child grows up. They can also expand to include friends of the child’s relatives. In short, a child in sole custody has only half the social capital of children with both parents in their lives. Social capital is an important buffer against the many “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and can be a source of important positive relationships and opportunities for kids throughout their lives.

Austin also discussed the concept of parental gatekeeping. The literature on gatekeeping essentially always deals with the maternal side of the coin. He pointed out that both restricting overnights and relocations can be forms of restrictive gatekeeping. So it’s interesting to note that, McIntosh’s advocacy of limiting overnights with Dad is itself an advocacy of maternal gatekeeping.

We then had Dr. Richard Warshak – University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, USA. Complicated delivery: The untold story and aftermath of the international consensus report on parenting plans for young children.
I did post a copy of a youtube video but the person that posted it was asked to remove it until the NPO releases the video and it was removed. Hopefully it will be back up soon. It would be well worth the watch.

We then had a wonderful Plenary Speakers Panel Discussion –

It was determined that we prefer the terms “Equal, Shared Parenting” (ESP), or “Joint Physical Custody” (JPC) – Because, Both Parents Matter (or as I like to say; Because Kids Need 2 Parents or Love Your Children More Then You Hate Your Ex!)
“When a couple marry and decide to start a family, they don’t decide that one parent will only spend time with the child on Wednesday evenings and every other weekend.”

Both parents spend time with the child every day! 
It makes sense to me that if both parents are deemed fit while the marriage is intact, why aren’t they deemed fit when the marriage ends? 
It also makes sense that both parents should be allowed equal, shared parenting time as a starting point in divorce or separation. 
Without equal, shared parenting time, mom can remarry and mom’s new husband or partner will have more access time with the child then the biological father and for no other reason than divorce or separation.

In Canada, typically mom gets sole custody or primary care giver, which typically means the same thing – mom is the primary care giver and dad is the every other weekend visitor (with Wednesday visits if he’s lucky) and if he wants more than that, he is in for the fight of his life; if mom doesn’t agree. I have a perfect example of that; a mom and dad both worked shift work while they were together – when mom was on days, she watched over the children in the evening and when dad was on days, he watched over the children at night. Dad thought they would keep the same schedule after he and mom separated but he was wrong. Mom decided that she wanted sole custody and because of how our system is set up, dad had to fight tooth and nail to get what he had prior to the dissolution of the marriage.

Dad spent his life saving on fighting the system, just to gain what he had prior to the marriage ending. While this dad said he couldn’t think of anything better to spending his money on then his children, he would have much rather spend his money on their education then on the lawyer and legal system.

“I would suggest that we focus less on how well the parents get along, and more on the strength of the parent-child bond.”
The 3 main factors are;
• Mom and child relationship
• Dad and child relationship
• Mom and dad relationship.

After the conference dinner on Monday (the day started at 7am and finished at 10:30pm), we had an advocacy workshop in which I met with some great people that already had equal, shared parenting in place. One of them, Dan Deuel, Utah Executive Committee – National Parents Organization – told me that the first two times they introduced their bill it was defeated because they used the term “shared parenting”, the third time they introduced it they removed the term “shared parenting” and replaced it with “additional overnights” and that bill has passed. No other wording in the legislation was changed, just the terms “shared parenting” and “additional overnights”. (Dan has sent me his legislation, I have yet to go through it completely)

Another presenter at the advocacy workshop was Linda Reutzel from Missouri 4 Shared Parenting Initiative – MO4SP. They now have a “rebuttable presumption of shared parenting” in their legislation. (Still waiting to hear back from Linda for their legislation)

George Piskor concluded with: 
In contrast to the prior conference, ICSP 2017 was opened up to representatives of civil society and advocacy groups. The former made several thought-provoking presentations on framing shared parenting as an issue of human rights under the UN Conventions on the Right of the Child and EU laws allowing the strong inference that shared parenting represents the international embodiment of the best interests of the child standard (in line with positions adopted by Family Rights groups in Europe, US, Canada and Australia over the years). Advocacy presentations focused on status reports and traditional obstacles faced in promoting shared parenting. The impromptu “National Advocacy Summit” evening session provided an opportunity to checkpoint the international state of play.

Three consensus points emerged:
1. With shared parenting now on the cusp of being settled science, the onus now falls on advocacy groups more than ever to move the ball down the field; this is also so true, the onus does fall on advocacy groups - it is time for us to "move the ball down the field".
2. There is no single approach to maximize advocacy. Each approach of political, media, legislative advocacy must be tailored to the situation on the ground;
3. Notwithstanding the ongoing lack of advocacy funding, the single most potent tool in the advocacy arsenal has shown itself time and time again to be a few superbly motivated and organized individuals.

I have nothing but praise for the conference. My only disappointment was the lack of a countervailing view by opponents of shared parenting to provide a perspective from both sides of the coin (apparently they were invited but declined).

Conference presentations and videos will be made available online. In addition, much of the conference research will be presented in a ‘Special Issue” on Shared Parenting by a well-respected academic journal scheduled for early 2018.

Next conference will be held in Europe, tentatively Strasbourg.

ICSP 2017 Conference Program attached. See also www.npo-icsp2017.org .
United in purpose & spirit...g

- Canadian Coalition for Equal Parenting
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