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March 21, 2019-Can ESP Work Only When the Parents Are Not in Conflict?

Another potential rebuttal factor was extensively discussed: whether SP should be precluded in the presence of high interparental conflict. Many courts and custody evaluators seem currently to take the position that it should be precluded. For example, in his guide for professional custody evaluators, Stahl (1999) opined that “high conflict parents cannot share parenting” (p. 99). In the same vein, Emery (2009) argued that “joint physical custody is the worst arrangement for children when [it] leaves [them] in the middle of a war zone. … In high conflict divorces, children do worse in joint physical custody than in other arrangements.”

However, most members of the panel eschewed this opinion, in view of the plethora of recent evidence to the contrary. In particular, Nielsen (2017) had reviewed 27 distinct studies showing that children benefited significantly from SP even when the parents had high levels of conflict.[authors’ emphasis added]

Further, various strategies (e.g., dropping off and picking up children at school instead of at the parents’ homes) can limit children’s exposure to conflict. This could lead to more parallel rather than cooperative parenting, which can be useful in many cases (Birnbaum & Bala, 2010).

It has also sometimes been argued that SP is only appropriate and will benefit children when both parents voluntarily agree to it at the outset. This idea, too, was strongly opposed by most of the panelists. First, the evidence disputes it: In particular, Nielsen (2017) reviewed six distinct studies showing that children benefited significantly from SP even when one parent initially opposed the SP plan. Second, as a strategic matter, it unwisely gives veto power to the less cooperative parent. Third, agreement to SP arrangement is not fixed, but is highly dependent on context, especially court-related factors (Fabricius et al., 2010). Accordingly, when parents are educated by courts and lawyers and other professionals that SP is beneficial and normative, their opposition often dissipates.

Sanford L. Braver & Michael E. Lamb (2018): Shared Parenting After Parental Separation: The Views of 12 Experts, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, DOI: 10.1080/10502556.2018.1454195, at pp. 10 – 11

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