A watershed moment in children’s welfare occurred in Boston two weeks ago. Remarkably, that moment had much to do with an important moment in Nebraska just two weeks earlier. Both moments are important for Fathers’ Day.
The watershed moment in Boston was a conference of many of the world’s top scientists working in the field of child custody and children’s well-being following their parents’ divorce. The scientists said there is now no doubt that, in general, children of divorce do better when they maintain equal or nearly equal relationships with each parent instead of being consigned to the sole custody of one.
One of the world’s pre-eminent researchers, Dr. Sanford Braver, said that science now supports a legal presumption of shared parenting when both parents are fit and there is no evidence of abuse. We now have sufficient scientific evidence of shared parenting’s beneficial effects on kids to make it the rule in family courts.
The conference had many highlights. Wake Forest University psychologist Dr. Linda Nielsen has examined every study in the English language – a total of 52 – comparing shared parenting with sole or primary custody. In 51 of them, children were better off emotionally, psychologically and behaviorally in shared parenting than in any other arrangement. Swedish researcher Dr. Malin Bergstrom has studied data on 150,000 teenagers and found shared parenting to be second only to intact families in promoting children’s mental health.
These findings are directly attributable to the child custody and parenting time arrangements in which children live and not some other variable. That is, the benefits of shared parenting exist regardless of the income, race, educational level, etc. of the parents, and regardless of the level of parental conflict.
Should divorced fathers have overnight contact with their infants or toddlers? The research answers with a resounding “yes!” A consensus report of 110 scientists worldwide demonstrates that even the youngest children do better in shared care than those in sole care. Plus, mothers are less stressed, likely due to being relieved of the obligation of 24/7 childcare.
The burden of proof is now on opponents of shared parenting to prove their case. There is essentially no science to support the proposition that sole parenting is better for kids than shared parenting.
Which brings us to the important event in Nebraska.
That event was the end of a lawsuit brought by Dr. Les Veskrna against the Administrator of Courts, Corey Steel. Veskrna sought documents under the Open Records Act on the training Nebraska’s judges receive on the science on child custody and parenting time. The state Supreme Court ordered the release of those documents, and what a story they tell!
They reveal that Nebraska’s judges are receiving the wrong information about the science on shared parenting versus other arrangements. Indeed, contrary to the science on the matter, they’ve been told that, up to as late as the child’s sixth birthday, overnight visits with the non-custodial parent aren’t preferred.
Plus, judges have been instructed that conflict between parents negates any shared parenting order. Again, all the science that examines parental conflict and child well-being contradicts that claim, but judges in Nebraska are being taught it anyway.
No wonder that the 2013 analysis of Nebraska family courts revealed that just 12 percent of the children of divorce end up with shared care.
With Fathers' Day coming up, let’s give dads the best gift possible – a meaningful relationship with their children following divorce. Let’s change Nebraska law to presume shared parenting unless parental unfitness or abuse prohibits it. Children’s welfare and science demand it.