Notes from Day 2: International Conference on Shared Parenting

The morning started with an address by Dr.h.c.Jean Zermatten, Chariman of UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Switzerland, on Parenting and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The four general principles are:
• that all the rights guaranteed by the Convention must be available to all children without discrimination of any kind (Article 2);
• that the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children (Article 3);
• that every child has the right to life, survival and development (Article 6); and
• that the child’s views must be considered and taken into account in all matters affecting him or her (Article 12)

194 countries have ratified this human rights treaty. Three (3) countries have yet to ratify the treaty: Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States.

Dr. Zermatten spoke of the importance of recognizing that the separation of parents with children is not a dissolution but a reorganization of the family. He emphasized that the child must be that red thread that weaves its way through the whole family as they reorganize from living together in one home to living separately in two homes. The consistent thought of the parents must be that while they are no longer life partners,they will always be mother and father.

Dr. William G. Austin gave a compelling presentation on Parental Gatekeeping and a Social Capital Analysis in Child Custody.  Parental gatekeeping is a medical, scientific and practical concept, which refers to how parents’ attitudes and actions affect the involvement and quality of the relationship between the other parent and child, both positively and negatively. Dr. Austin discussed the three (3) primary approaches to gatekeeping: facilitative, restrictive, and protective.

Restrictive gatekeeping creates conflict. An important part of the forensic custody evaluator role is determining if restrictive gatekeeping is justified or unjustified. Gatekeeping is a critical factor for analysis because children of divorce show the best overall adjustment when they have quality relationships with both parents. The best scenario for children is two parents who are supportive of each other with both performing facilitative gatekeeping. Gatekeeping has the greatest impact on social capital which refers to the psychosocial resources that a child derives from the important relationships and experiences in his or her life.

Professor Patrick Parkinson presented some research from the University of Sydney Australia on Relocation and the Indissolubility of Parenthood, a 5 year longitudinal study of 80 adults involved in relocation cases in the Australia Family Court.  He referred to relocation as the San Andreas Fault of Family Law, where tectonic plates collide. The plates? Divorce/dissolution that promises adults a new start and the ability to move on; and the indissolubility/permanence of parenthood.

Findings include an almost universal concern among the children about leaving friends. Children of school age who were close to their father (usually it's moms who move) were troubled by the thought of leaving dad behind.

Overall, children who moved adapted to new schools and made new friends, and there were some who adapted well because of advantages in the new location. However, children with close relationship to father did NOT adjust well to that loss with reports of missing dad, wishing the parents could live close to one another, wanting equal time with each parent, and feeling a loss of closeness. One little girl, age 8, reported missing her father ‘thousands time more than the universe’; and a 9 year old boy said he was unhappy that his parents had ever separated (dad had been primary caretaker).

Of the mothers who stayed, the majority accepted not moving and had a fairly positive attitude toward the future. Some of the mothers said there was no improvement, a few were ambivalent, and a few were bitter.  Two-thirds of the mothers who stayed reported that there children were close or very close to their fathers. 

Professor Hildegund Sunderhauf, Lutheran University of Applied Sciences in Nuremberg, Germany presented on Legal and Social Development of Shared Physical Custody in Europe. She presented an overview of the history of change throughout Europe with a particular focus on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 8 is considered to be one of the Convention's most open-ended provisions. Professor Sunderhauf spoke in detail about Resolution 2079 (2015) which addressed Equality and shared parental responsibility: the role of fathers. 

Professor Sunderhauf predicts that the principle of shared residence following a separation will be introduced into the national law all over Europe soon.

Dr. Malin Bergstrom, Karolinska Institute, Sweden, presented a preliminary report on an ongoing research project related to Shared Parenting in Sweden 3-18 Years Old. She presented a summary of some of the interview responses from a study of parents of 0-4 year old children.

A few of the responses follow:

  • Why should they live more with one of us when they are children to both of us?
  • Both parents should be as important for the child.
  • One cannot make a lifelong commitment to always to be neighbors. But we kind of have the ambition to at least live nearby. Especially when he is older.

The ongoing research project measures cooperation, support, confidence, conflicts, and agreement on custody between the co-parents. The Elvis-project has conducted studies on school children since 2011, preschoolers and their parents since 2015, and are planning upcoming longitudinal studies.

Dr. Michael Lamb, Cambridge University, UK, presented a Critical Analysis of Research on Parenting Plans and Children's Well-being. He addressed the key issues related to parental separation: (1) Risks of maladjustment higher when parents have separated; and (2) Maintaining relationships with both parents minimizes those effects. The important research question he addressed in his analysis: Does overnight shared parenting affect infant-mother attachment or child adjustment?

Dr. Lamb gave a brief overview of the important aspects in attachment formation to include:
1   Emerges around 7/8 months
2   Usually to both co-resident parents
3   Sometimes to others as well
4   Can develop without co-residence
5   Regular responsive interaction caregiver to child is the key
6   Children can form attachments later when opportunities weren’t available earlier
7   Secure attachments to both parents promote adjustment

Dr. Lamb suggest that there are three (3) important questions to ask when evaluating research on attachment formation: (1) Are samples representative? (2) When did parents separate? (3) Did circumstances pre-separation allow for attachment to both primary caregivers?

And this was just the beginning of the day! What an amazing opportunity to learn and collaborate with professionals from all over the world who are focused on the best interest of children from the research perspective.