Glenn Cheriton is the dedicated President of the Canadian Equal Parenting Council. Gene C. Colman has been privileged to work with Glenn on a variety of law reform projects over the years. In December 2015, Glen attended and presented at the 2nd International Conference on Shared Parenting in Bonn, Germany. Here is his enlightening report:
I attended the second International Conference on Shared Parenting in Bonn, Germany in December, 2015. This was organized by the International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP) and the conference was chaired by Canada’s Dr. Ed Kruk.
About 120 people from 20 countries, from Malaysia to Canada attended the conference, which covered the social science, legal and some political aspects of shared parenting, with a strong emphasis on "dual residence" or recognition of a child residing with each parent, and parent equality. Presentations and sessions were in English, French or German, with simultaneous interpretation into the other two languages. Quality of the translations was superb.
Presentations showed that shared parenting is favored by law in Switzerland, Sweden, Australia and Brazil, which also has an anti-parental alienation law. In June 2015, the Council of Europe has passed a resolution calling for shared parenting in the European countries as a basis for gender equality and to conform to accepted standards for children’s rights to both parents.
As a presenter, I gave a session on the political aspects of implementing shared parenting and equality of parents with some pertinent examples and approaches from Canada. It was very well received and led to numerous discussions with participants from other countries and many requests for follow-up on politics, organization and sharing strategies and tactics.
In addition to plenary sessions at the beginning and at the end which gathered and organized the academic research and other presentations, there were 4 workshop streams: 1. Societal Framework in varied Legal and Cultural Environments; 2) Legislation for Shared Parenting (a stream I followed most closely) 3) The role of family mediation in Shared Parenting and 4) Best practices to reduce high conflict and family violence.
From England we learned that children who had shared parenting despite their parents having high conflict did better in school than children in sole custody with low-conflict parents. This is important, because opponents of shared parenting have long claimed that shared parenting is bad for children and therefore cannot be done when the parents have high conflict. (In the upside down world of family courts, a parent is often relegated to non-custodial status due to endless conflict generated by the other parent!)
In addition, research evidence was presented that shared parenting decreases the first-time outbreak of domestic violence after the separation or divorce of couples who never had this problem in the past. This is important social science as domestic violence advocates routinely oppose shared parenting legislation on the grounds that it will lead to domestic violence. Yet the overwhelming body of research shows the opposite: that shared parenting decreases domestic violence, at least among those couples who never had this problem in the past.
Further research results suggested that shared parenting can help prevent parental alienation, a form of child abuse fomented and enabled by family courts. This is critically important because it is extremely difficult and expensive to reverse "parental alienation" once it has developed in a child of separated parents.
The conference conclusions reflect the growing body of social science research showing numerous and diverse benefits of shared parenting.
- As shared parenting has been recognized by the research community, as well as by legal and mental health practitioners, as a viable post-separation parenting arrangement that is optimal to child development and well-being, there is consensus that both the legal and psycho-social implementation of shared parenting as a presumption should proceed without delay, with the full sanction and support of professional bodies and associations.
- As shared parenting encompasses both shared parental authority (decision-making) and shared parental responsibility for the day-to-day upbringing and welfare of children, between fathers and mothers, in keeping with children's age and stage of development, there is consensus that legal implementation of shared parenting, including both the assumption of shared responsibilities and presumption of shared rights in regard to the parenting of children by fathers and mothers who are living together or apart, be enshrined in law.
- As shared parenting is recognized as the most effective means for both reducing high parental conflict and preventing first-time family violence, there is consensus that legal and psycho-social implementation of shared parenting as a presumption should proceed with the goal of reducing parental conflict after separation. There is further consensus that legal and psycho-social implementation of shared parenting as a presumption be encouraged for high conflict families in particular, with the full sanction and support of professional bodies and associations.
- There is a consensus that the above apply to the majority of children and families, but not to situations of substantiated family violence and child abuse. In such cases, a rebuttable presumption against shared parenting should apply. There is a consensus that the priority for further research on shared parenting should focus on the intersection of child custody and family violence, including child maltreatment in all its forms. There is further consensus that a priority for both the scientific and the legal and mental health practice communities should be the development of legal statutes and practice guidelines with respect to safety measures in cases of established family violence.
- As there is mounting evidence that shared parenting can both prevent parental alienation, and is a potential remedy for existing situations of parental alienation in separated families, there is consensus that further exploration of the viability of a legal presumption of shared parenting in situations of parental alienation be undertaken.
- As therapeutic and mediation services are vital to the success of shared parenting arrangements, there is a consensus that an accessible network of family relationship centres that offer family mediation and other relevant support services are critical components of any effort toward legislative and psychosocial implementation of shared parenting. We call on governments to establish such networks as a necessary adjunct to the establishment of a legal presumption of shared parenting.
We call on member states to fully adopt the Council of Europe Resolution of October 2, 2015. In particular, we call on member states to adopt the following provisions: 5.5. Introduce into their laws the principle of shared residence following a separation. 5.9. Encourage and develop mediation within the framework of judicial proceedings in family cases involving children.
There are significant opportunities for Canadian advocates for parents to use the academic research revealed by the conference to promote equal parenting, to advocate the for a Canadian resolution similar to that of the Council of Europe, and to show how equal shared parenting is being successfully implemented in various countries to the benefit of children, parents and society in general.
December 17, 2015