Shared Parenting – the psychological and sociological evidence

There now exists a plethora of scientific psychological and sociological evidence and research – some of which is Government-commissioned – in favour of ‘Shared Parenting’.

It plainly demonstrates the emotional, developmental and educational benefits for children of remaining in a ‘meaningful’ relationship with both their natural parents, post separation/ divorce:

Professor Edward Kruk, Ph.D.  University of British Columbia

Professor Edward Kruk, Ph.D. University of British Columbia

As with most objective scientific inquiry, the evidence is never 100% conclusive. Selected research can always be found which fails to support ‘Shared Parenting’.

However, meta-analyses of all the research available show a general consensus that children benefit from being permitted to remain in ‘meaningful contact’ with both their natural parents (except, of course, in cases where there is verifiable evidence of child abuse).

Contemporary social scientists have confirmed what most major world religions have known for centuries – that children benefit from the love and guidance of both their mother and their father.

Furthermore, most of the above scientific data in favour of ‘Shared Parenting’ has already been exhibited as formal evidence at the Family Division of the High Court, and has proved to be very persuasive indeed.

After giving himself three weeks to read fifteen contemporary scientific reports in favour of Shared Parenting in the widely-reported case of Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50, former President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall published his carefully considered view that family law (in the form of Payne v Payne) relegated the harm done to children by failing to support close, meaningful and on-going relationships between children and their non-resident parent:

Retired President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir Nicholas Wall

Retired President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir Nicholas Wall

In Re AR (A Child: Relocation) [2010] EWHC 1346, High Court judge, Sir Nicholas Mostyn also made reference to contemporary scientific evidence in favour of ‘Shared Parenting’.

Sir Nicholas Mostyn, High Court Judge

Sir Nicholas Mostyn, High Court Judge

It is vitally important to dismiss three prevalent myths concerning ‘Shared Parenting’:

Firstly, ‘Shared Parenting’ does not necessitate a precise 50/50 division of parenting time. This would prove highly unworkable in many cases. Furthermore, most sensible parents are perfectly capable of understanding this important point. It is entirely possible for a non-resident parent to maintain ‘meaningful involvement’ in the life of his or her child at a sub-50% level of parenting time. Alternate weekends, mid-week overnight stays and half of school holidays should provide ample opportunity for a child to benefit from the ‘meaningful’ input of its non-resident parent. Any shared parenting plan would need to be based upon the particular circumstances of the family members.

Secondly, if there is evidence of any significant danger to the child, contact can and will be restricted by the Court. The Government’s Children and Families Bill makes this perfectly clear, and I am very surprised that those who oppose ’Shared Parenting’ legislation appear quite blind to this very important safe-guard. The Bill does not undermine the Paramountcy Principle of the Children Act (1989) in any way.

Thirdly, opponents of ‘Shared Parenting’ legislation claim that the judiciary already operates on the basis that both parents should be meaningfully involved in their child’s upbringing. If this were true, why do they object to enshrining the practice into law? They are plainly unaware of the fact that resident parents applying to remove their children overseas will, in most cases, be granted permission, due to the application of Payne v Payne (2001). Plainly, it is almost impossible for a non-resident parent to be meaningfully involved in the parenting of a child who is residing on the opposite side of the planet!

Furthermore, many perfectly good and conscientious parents can face months or even years of exclusion from the lives of their children. Resident parents can exclude good non-resident parents simply by refusing to abide by contact orders or by maliciously lodging false or exaggerated claims of domestic violence. Proving their innocence can take many months of arduous and cripplingly expensive legal struggle, and it is hardly surprising that many of these good non-resident parents simply give up the fight.

The law needs to protect a child’s right to be parented by both its parents; it needs to encourage non-resident parents to assume their parenting responsibilities, and it needs to discourage resident parents from using obstructive tactics.

The Government’s Children and Families Bill aims to achieve these noble objectives, in the best interests of children.

Best regards
Bruno D’Itri



6 thoughts on “Shared Parenting – the psychological and sociological evidence

  1. Interesting post, but I am not sure why 50:50 time is considered unworkable compared to alternate weekends, one night in the week and half the holidays? Indeed, it would seem to be rather simpler than those kind of arrangements. It could still be flexible. Naturally, not everyone’s circumstances might make this possible, or desirable, but nevertheless, I can’t see any reason why it should not be the standard formula, to be altered according to the individual family circumstance?

  2. Hello Sarah.
    Thank you for your comment.
    One of the spurious arguments being made by many who are against Shared Parenting is that we are demanding a rigid 50:50 split of parenting time. In my article, I sought to expose the weakness of that argument by making it abundantly clear that no such demand is, in fact, being made.
    Another argument being made against Shared Parenting is that the notion of a 50:50 split is intended to satisfy parents’ hunger for fairness rather than focusing primarily upon the children’s best interests. Again, to counter this argument, I prefer to argue for ‘substantial’ Shared Parenting time between parents, in line with the children’s needs.
    It is plain that for a parent to be meaningfully involved in his child’s life, a minimum quantum of frequent and regular time with the child is necessary. It is plain to ME at least! Sir Nicholas Wall, the former President of the Family Division, famously argued that a parent could maintain a meaningful relationship with a child living overseas by means of Skype!
    Bruno D’Itri

  3. Dear Bruno

    Thank you for your response. I remember the Skype comment, which was incredible, at least for anyone who has ever actually used Skype. Or met a child. As for skyping a young child, the last time I did that I mainly saw their nostrils as they played with the camera!

    Whilst I agree that these important changes should not be held up because of a misunderstanding about what the law will mean, I do believe that a 50:50 split of time should be the aim ot at least the default standard (of course all family law should be adjustable to the needs of individual familieis). To do otherwise is to give a child one home, and one place to visit, one parent and another babysitter. We need to show children they have 2 parents to depend on and that that bond is unbreakable even through other changes.

    The fathers I see are as involved in their families as the mothers that I see. For both parents their children are the focus of their lives. Maybe that is not true for all fathers (or all mothers ) but that should be proven before you break a relationship down on an old fashioned model (which may in fact never have been true). To take that away or even to sideline it to weekends is as much a crime against the child as it is against the parent. there will only ever be 2 people in the world who have that unconditional love for you- to impair either of those relatioships is to remove one of the richest experiences and the strongest supports that anyone can have.

    I do think that parents could take on more of the burden of the difficulties of living across 2 homes (eg parents could rotate homes and not children), but ultimately research has shown that all relationships need time and experiences to retain their quality. Having spent some time with kids, as much as you try and plan “quality time”, actual “quality” experiences usually just happen by themselves when you least expect them!

    So whilst I understand that you don’t want to lose everything for the sake of a goal that seems out of reach, I really hope that this remains a long term target.


    • Hello Sarah
      Apologies for my tardy reply.
      I certainly agree with you in principle.
      The ultimate goal is genuine Shared Parenting, with no out-of-date notions of mothers being ‘natural’ caregivers and fathers being ‘natural’ financial providers.
      However, I rather suspect that we may only achieve this goal via a series of incremental changes in the right direction.
      Best wishes

      • Bruno
        I am a Law student and Winchester University and have seen a lot of what you have written on various issues concerning shared parenting. I am currently doing a piece on The draft clause in the Children and Families Bill concerning shared parenting and would really like more of your opinion as you seem very knowledgable on the area
        Lauran Taylor

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