Shared parenting: What are the facts?

Experiences of child custody and the family court vary case by case. The Australian Institute of Family Studies states that most disputes as a result of divorce are settled out of court – either privately or from using some form of mediation. For a minority, however, unresolved conflict leads to a lengthy and costly court battle.

For those who use the latter-most option, they will be greeted with presumed shared custody – which means both parents automatically share the responsibility of their offspring. This is thanks to a change in legislation by the Howard government in 2006. Factors such as income stability, housing, and the ability to raise a child are considered to then sway responsibility either way.

The problem, however, is that “shared responsibility” does not equal shared time. Whilst the quality of time is certainly more important than quantity of time, you can argue that you have to have quantity in order to ensure quality.

A 2014 report of all custody cases in Australia found that more than 73% of children spend most or all of their time with their mother. Shared custody – which is defined as 35% to 65% of time with either parent – stands at 20%. That leaves under 7% of all children spending most or all of their time with their father. You can read the (very lengthy) report here.

The argument against shared parenting has its logical points – constantly moving between parents can have an adverse effect on very young children. However, studies have shown that the gender of the custodial parent does not affect the child and some overnight stays are not harmful (more information here). Further, the study does not take into account older minors. Surely teenagers should have some say on where and whom they live with. Unfortunately, it is hard to quantify that kind of information.

Child custody battles can range from petty to abusive. There are instances where a parent will go so far as to vilify the other parent in front of their child, not allowing the child to spend time with or even lying about the non-custodial parent. There are cases where parents try to undermine each other – arguing that the father or mother is incapable of raising children.

Then there are biases within the courtroom itself, where traditional gender roles come into play, and fathers are seen to be less equipped than mothers (even though there is no data to fully support this). Issues can lie outside the courtroom too – some advocacy groups can be sexist or state unsupported facts, or skew existing data.

Over the next few weeks, this campaign will address some of the key issues surrounding shared parenting and what ‘shared parenting’ actually means. I will look at the issues causing and affecting this very real bias in Australia. The aim, as always, is to encourage and facilitate engagement. Above all, the goal is to educate.

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8 thoughts on “Shared parenting: What are the facts?

  1. How to progress your understanding? Through doing your own thinking.

    Be humble and appreciate that others may have something valuable to say, while at the same time being aware that what others have to say may not be valuable and is only being said because it’s expected of them.

    I noticed you commented on Rae Kaspiew’s article on the Conversation where she seems to mount a strident argument for leaving the family law system mostly as it is. She does it in part by saying 70% of separated parents maintain good relationships with the other parent. I suppose (but don’t know) that the “empirical evidence” of 70% she alluded to might have come from the “post separation parenting” report you mentioned to in your article. Now do her stats actually bear out the figure of 70% happily separated families? If so, that’s a big story because that means there are ways to separate amicably that all separating families can learn from.

    If her stats don’t bear out the figure of 70%, that’s another big story: Why would a key government researcher be writing articles falsely claiming that there’s no problem with the family law system?

    There are many other avenues of pursuit. My own particular interest is coming up with improving the family law process on the assumption that this will improve the outcomes.

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  2. Hmmm, you’ve raised some interesting points. I never thought of Kaspiew’s article in that light, but what you’re saying does make a lot of sense. I’ve got a lot to think about, that’s for sure. One of my aims of this blog is to start a discussion, which I’m clearly doing with you, however I would really like to get women involved. I’m interested to hear what their thoughts are.

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  3. If you want to get women involved, I think you’ll find there are different sorts:
    – Grandmothers who haven’t seen their son’s children in a long time.
    – Grandmothers who are looking after their daughter’s children while the daughter works.
    – Wives/girlfriends of men who are missing their kids.
    – Women who just want to be left alone to look after their children.
    – Women who have been accused of alienating the children from their father and lost custody.
    – Women who have grown up estranged from one parent.
    – Women who are sharing time with the ex, usually engaged in “parallel parenting”.
    – Single career women who have never had children and may only know what they read.

    The list goes on, and there are many individual variations.

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    1. That’s very useful, thanks so much! Are you willing to talk with me about your own story? You can share as much or as little as you like, either about the process you went through or your blog efforts, or anything else you’d like to say, really!

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  4. Hi – I’m a little reluctant to share my own story, because it’s still happening. In any case, there are many people who are telling their stories – mine doesn’t really add much. It is kind of a cute story though.

    As you can read from my blog at fixingfamilylaw.wordpress.com, I am entirely focused at the moment at working on how to fix the system. When you think about how many people make a living from the divorce industry, it is a bit of a challenge. But I feel I’m getting there.

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