Benefits of post-divorce shared parenting and the situation in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany
(Peter Tromp, 2009)
January 3, 2009 · 9 Comments
Benefits of post-divorce shared parenting and the situation in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany
Presentation by Peter Tromp PhD, child and educational psychologist, President of the Father Knowledge Centre Europe, and Chair of the Dutch Foundation for Children, Access and Equal Parenting at the International Conference on Family and Equality “Justice and Father’s & Men’s Dignity” on 2-4 January 2009 in Drama, Greece
All across Europe the child custody debate has moved to the top of the political agenda. The battle lines are essentially the stark choice between mother-only-custody of the child versus shared parenting where both parents are participants in child custody and care. Much is at stake – not just for feminists, who support the former, and fathers, who support the latter, but for children and whether the balanced, healthy society we all seek will become a reality. This is a clash that must be won. It cannot, as American author Warren Farrell famously said, be an undeclared war won at a battlefield where only one side turned up. The question today is whether children in the post divorce scenario grow up to be a liability and burden on the state, or a jewel in society’s crown ? After 30 years of feigning deafness, politicians across Europe are acknowledging the contributions and efforts fathers should be allowed to make to young children if they are ever to be properly ’socialised’.” This cannot be done under the present regime of mother-only-custody found in most European countries.
This paper will address the psychological and emotional needs of children but it will also mention the concrete changes underway. Fathers for too long excluded from the social policy level and denied any input in shaping policy are today making small inroads. For instance, there are developments in shared parenting to be found in Holland, Belgian and to a degree in German family law which I will also cover in this paper. Slowly, ‘outcomes’ for so long championed by fathers’ groups, are being adopted as the criterion rather than ideologically driven dogma. It was just 10 years ago that the consensus was that it was unnecessary for a father to have any role after birth and were increasingly seen as superfluous to children’s needs. Slowly, as society has unravelled, it has been recognised that children in fatherless families run greater mortality and morbidity risks. That their ‘quality of life’ is poor, their ‘live chances’ negligible. Without fathers present they become victims of physical abuse, emotional and sexual abuse, have poor health, poor education, become drink and drug dependent, homeless and jailed.
Good morning Mr. Chairman. First of all I would like to thank the Greek Men’s and Father’s Dignity Association SYGAPA, the Prefecture of Drama and the Technological Educational Institute of Kavala in Greece for taking the initiative for arranging for an international conference on the equality and dignity of men and fathers in the family and in family law and offering me the opportunity to make the opening presentation at the start of your conference.
The excellent initiative of SYGAPA to organise this international conference in Drama, Greece in 2009 stands in a longer tradition that first started with a series of yearly European father summer conferences organised during the eighties and nineties of the last century by Professor Eduard Bakalar in Prague, Czechia.
His initiative was followed by the International Father Conference in 1996 at Woudschoten and the International Father Conference “In the best interest of the child – reality or magic formula?” in 1999 at Breda. Both conferences were organised by myself in the Netherlands in cooperation with the Dutch ministry of Justice on behalf of the Dutch Association Parents for Children.
Also in 1999 an international summer camp conference on equal parenting was held from 25-31 July at Langeac in France.
In 2000 and 2001 this was followed by two International Father Conferences organised by Mankind in London on the issues of “The age of violent young males – causes and remedies” and “Censorship”.
On 18/19 October 2002 the first international conference on the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was held in Frankfurt/Main in Germany under the chairmanship of the Wuerzburg psychiatrist Wilfrid von Boch-Galhau.
In 2004 this was followed by the European Father Conference organised by the Austrian government during its EU-presidency term in Vienna.
Finally in July 2007 this was followed by the International Conference “Boys and the boy crisis” in Washington DC.
It is a tradition that certainly deserves further continuity into the near future.
But let me introduce myself. My name is Peter Tromp. I am a child- and educational psychologist from the Netherlands and – as its president and international coordinator – I represent the Father Knowledge Centre Europe.
The Father Knowledge Centre Europe (FKCE) was originally set up by Dutch voluntary-sector NGO the Foundation for Children, Access and Equal Parenting, which itself was founded in 1989. Father Knowledge Centre champions the cause of equal parenting and keeping both parents actively involved in children’s lives after divorce and separation.
It works with policy makers, scientists, campaign groups, lobbyists and reformers and aims to make knowledge and information available about the role, the contributions and the efforts men and fathers are making in children’s lives, particularly in raising and educating (their) children. Whether that is in the family – both before and after divorce – or in any of the other living environments where children grow up, like childcare and education.
The aim is to have these contributions and efforts of fathers and men in caring for and educating children better acknowledged and supported on the social policy level.
The mode of operation of the Father Knowledge Centre Europe to these effects is on both the Pan-European as well as on the national levels in Europe. To this end a Pan-European communication forum between the countries that constitute the European Union (EU) – the Familyrights-4-Europe Forum – was established in January 2003, while at the same time the Father Knowledge Centre Europe established separate national branches in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Belgium, with a separate branch in Germany now being underway.
In my presentation of today I would like to speak to you about some of the benefits of post-divorce ‘shared parenting’ arrangements for children . And as a prelude to the programmed presentation at this conference on the history of shared parenting in the United Kingdom by my honourable friend Robert Whiston FRSA, the president of the Father Knowledge Centre United Kingdom, At the end of my presentation I would like to conclude with summary introductions to the situation of – and developments in – shared parenting in the European Union, with emphasis on recent developments in the Dutch, Belgian and German divorce and family law systems.
2. Some definition issues in post-divorce shared and equal parenting
Before elaborating on the benefits of post-divorce ‘shared parenting’ for children I would first have to spend some words on some of the different issues surrounding a definition of shared and equal parenting.
Joint legal custody, joint physical custody, shared parenting, equal parenting, shared residence, shared care, bi-location, co-parenting are all terms and concepts that are being used in the context of shared and equal parenting. They all have different meanings and different legal connotations.
When I am talking, however, of the benefits of shared and equal parenting I am referring to any post-divorce form of parenting in which both parents share in the day-to-day care and residence for the children in a mutually agreed post-divorce parenting plan or arrangement between the parents. This excludes forms of shared parenting that are only limited to joint legal custody without sharing in the day-to-day physical care for the children, as I consider these custody forms to be ‘shared parenting’ only in name and not in practice.
3. The benefits of post-divorce shared parenting
If we look at what available scientific research tells us what the best interests of children are with regard to parenting arrangements after divorce or separation, then the picture cannot be clearer. Comparing the outcomes for children growing up in shared parenting arrangements, having regular contact with and care from both parents after divorce or separation, with the outcomes for children growing up in single parent families in the sole care of only one of their parents, generally the mother, than children growing up in shared parenting do much better.
Better outcomes for children in shared parenting arrangements
From a meta-analysis on 33 underlying separation researches Robert Bauserman (American Psychological Association, 2002) concluded, that children growing up in a form of shared parenting with frequent contact with and care from both parents, had
- less behavioural – and emotional problems,
- exhibited higher levels of self-worth and self-confidence,
- were better capable of building and preserving social contacts and relations, both within and outside the family and
- performed better at school,
than children who had grown up in the sole care of only one of their parents.
Children growing up in shared parenting of both parents after divorce and separation did so much better than children growing up under sole care of only one of their parents, that shared parenting arrangements after separation by far proved to be the “second best” parenting arrangement for growing up children, providing them with a new post-divorce family situation that best approached the ideal situation of an intact family.
From a range of other researches it further became clear, that children growing up in shared parenting of both parents
- develop better,
- are more satisfied,
- prove to be better adapted and adjusted and
- have more self-confidence and self-worth
in comparison with children growing up in sole care of one of their parents (Nunan, 1980; Cowan, 1982; Pojman, 1982; Livingston, 1983; Noonan, 1984; Shiller, 1984.,1986; Handley, 1985; Wolchik, 1985; Bredefeld, 1985; Öberg & Öberg, 1987).
From a Harvard study on 517 separation families over a period of 4 years wide, children growing up under post-divorce shared parenting proved to be less depressed, exhibited less unadjusted behaviours, and achieved better school results than children growing up in post-divorce sole care. (Buchanan, MacCoby, Dornbusch, 1996.)
Also, boys growing up in shared parenting are found to have less emotional problems than boys growing up in sole care (Pojman 1982; Shiller 1986).
Adverse effects on children’s health and well-being of growing up fatherless in one-parent families
The available research clearly shows that children growing up in sole care – mainly fatherless and with their mothers in mother-headed families – do much worse than children growing up in shared parenting.
Children being raised by one parent are at a greater risk for many things as they grow up, including health risks such as poorly controlled diabetes and asthma. (Holmes, 2007)
A Swedish large scale population study on children’s health found that children growing up fatherless in single-parent families also have more depression complaints, use more and earlier drugs and alcohol (binge-drinking), get more accidents and more often commit suicide, than children growing up in the care and with the involvement of both parents. (Swedish population study into the consequences of single-parent families on children, Ringbäck Weitoft, Hjern, Haglund, Rosén, 2003).
And a recent Dutch study on the importance of fathers for their children after parental separation and divorce (ENOVA, 2008) found that in the Dutch province of Drenthe 62% of all children in need of special youth care and youth welfare provided by the Dutch state originated from single parent families headed by mothers.
Also a consistency has now been determined between growing up in fatherless single-parent families and the prevalence of children being diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder ADHD/ADD. Children in single parent families are at twice the risk of being ADHD-diagnosed and prescribed with the drug Ritalin than children from intact two-parent families (Strohschein, 2007).
Child abuse risk and “new boyfriend-” or stepparent-risk
Child abuse can happen in all types of families, but it happens most in single parent mother-headed families and in new “patchwork-families” with stepchildren.
Children, especially boys, growing up in single parent mother-headed families are at twice to 2,5 times the risk of child sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional and mental abuse and neglect by either the mother herself or her “new friend”, the so-called “stepparent”. (Holmes, 2007; AMK, 1999, 2000, 2001)
Brought into a situation of social exclusion from the paternal half of their families by the present mother-only custody and care practises in family law and family courts, and with their fathers and paternal grandparents no longer involved or present in their lives, isolated children more often become victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse or neglect by the mother or her new boyfriend. The devastating results of social and family court policies giving prevalence to mother-only custody and care for the divorce children involved in terms of rising child abuse cases and occurring family-drama’s are now reported on frequently in today’s journals and newspapers of all of our societies.
Effects on children of growing up fatherless in single parent families in the different age groups (O’Neill, 2002)
If we take a closer look at the effects of growing up fatherless on the different age groups children (0-12) growing up in fatherless single-parent families have a greater risk of a life in poverty, run more risk on physical, emotional and sexual abuse, more often become runaways from home, have a greater risk of becoming homeless youths, have more risk of health complaints and have more problems at school and in their social contacts with others (O’Neill, 2002).
Teenagers growing up in fatherless single-parent families have a greater risk of teenage-pregnancy, to end up in (youth) crime, to smoke, to use alcohol and drugs, of playing truant, to be suspended, of becoming drop-outs and ending their school careers at an early age school, and of getting adaptation problems (O’Neill, 2002).
Young adults (18 onwards)
And young adults, having grown up in fatherless single-parent families, stand a greater risk of not having finished a proper vocational education, earning lower incomes, becoming jobless and in need of benefits, at risk of becoming homeless, or of getting involved in crime, of developing chronic emotional and mental-health problems, of developing general physical health complaints, and sooner have cohabiting relations, more often have extramarital children, only to end up in separation and divorce more often. (Meta-study “Experimenting in living, The fatherless family”, Civitas, O’Neill, 2002).
Parentification of children of divorce in single parent families
British teenage-girls who have grown up in sole care or single parent families reported that they get stressed out and overloaded by the separation problems of their parents, especially caused by the call on them by their caring parent, in 90% of the cases the mother, for support in the fight concerning the children, put up with the other parent after divorce and separation. (Bliss survey, 2005: Girls take strain or parents’ split)
In single parent families it is often not the child who is being taken care of by the parent, but – as “mother’s little helper” – the child becomes an instrumental friend and partner to the parent in distress taking care of the parent’s welfare instead, thus forcing children of divorce into early maturation and depriving them of their youth. This phenomenon is documented in the psychological literature as that of “parentification”.
Post-divorce father involvement in children’s lives makes all the difference
Another line of comparative research focuses on the different effects on children of growing up with either involved or not involved (i.e. excluded) non-residential fathers after parental separation and divorce.
Carlson (2006) found in her research “Family structure, father involvement and behavioural effects on adolescents” based on the 1996 and 2000 data cohorts of the USA National Longitudinal Youth Study on 2.733 10-14 year old adolescents living only with their mothers while their fathers were non-residential that the greater the involvement of fathers was in the lives of their adolescent children, the less behavioural problems the adolescents had in terms of aggression, antisocial behaviour, and negative feelings like anxiety, concern, depression and low self-esteem.
Shared parenting leads to fewer conflicts between the parents and between the child and its parents
It is frequently contested by antagonists to shared parenting that present shared or equal parenting arrangements are self-selective on the issue of pre-existing conflict levels between the separating parents as they are court-provided on a voluntary base of consensus and consent between the two divorcing parents involved.
It is therefore important to note in this context, that the better outcomes for children documented in the quoted research above have also been found in research that controlled for pre-existing levels of conflicts between the parents as a self-selecting factor for shared parenting.
Furthermore it is also frequently claimed and presumed by antagonists to post-divorce shared parenting arrangements that shared parenting is the cause of more post-divorce conflicts between the divorced parents as it raises the level of interactions and contacts between the two separated parents.
The meta-study conducted by Robert Bauserman (APA, 2002) however found that, in contrast with what is usually claimed, the number and levels of conflicts between the parents in shared parenting arrangements strongly diminished in comparison with the number of conflicts in situations of sole care with access arrangements. As a result these lower level of conflicts between the divorced parents in shared parenting arrangements contributes greatly to better child welfare and well being.
Moreover, not only do parents experience less mutual conflicts in shared parenting arrangements, but also children growing up in shared parenting appear to have fewer conflicts with their parents, than children growing up in sole care of one parent (Karp, 1982).
Less loyalty and allegiance conflicts
It is also frequently claimed by antagonists to shared parenting that children growing up in shared parenting arrangements with both parents do not have a place and home of their own (“Do not take away the children’s home”, it is claimed). Children in shared parenting arrangements are pictured as being constantly underway between houses and as being continuously exposed to conflicts of allegiance. Available research however confounds this picture. Children are more flexible – within reason of course – than we expect them to be. What is more important to them is keeping their relations with both their parents. (Steinman, 1981, Luepnitz, 1986, Shiller, 1986, Coller, 1988, Tornstam, 2000).
Children want it themselves
The last argument these antagonists make against shared parenting is that proponents of shared parenting only argue from the point of view of the parents and do not take the interests and wishes of children into consideration. From child-research in which children themselves are questioned on their preferences however, it becomes clear that children themselves also most prefer shared parenting and care from both their parents after separation (Fabricius, 2003). Children themselves most want to preserve and maintain their relations with both parents after divorce and separation. They consider having narrow links and bonds with both their parents as being important to them, while growing up in shared parenting leaves them more satisfied than growing up in sole care. (Kelly, 1993).
Breaking the cycle of broken families: Less divorces and separations
Finally, children of divorce growing up in single parent mother-headed families themselves are at a 3,5 times greater risk of separation and divorce later on in their lives (Spruijt, 2007), thus contributing to a self perpetuating and accelerating cycle of new broken families into the future.
Post-divorce shared parenting arrangements on the other hand however – instead of accelerating the pace of separation and divorce resulting into broken families in the future – also prove to be a valuable incentive for keeping two-parent families together when possible. The more shared parenting arrangements are to be implemented instead of mother-only custody and care after separation, the fewer parents are inclined to go for a divorce. (Brinig & Allen, 2000) This contributes directly to the best interest of the children involved, as all of the research so far has indicated that intact two-parent families are still the best and most ideal setting for children to grow up in and flourish into the jewel in society’s crown they deserve to be, instead of growing to be a liability and burden on the state.
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