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Shared parenting agreements: The continuing exception to the rule

While Ward Cleaver, Mike Brady and other television fathers served as role models, their specific roles involved taking a smaller role in the lives of their children. They were sole providers, choosing to work while their wives served as caregivers.

The traditional roles of fathers, particularly those that are divorced, have evolved. More and more are taking a hands-on approach to raising their children. Yet, court-ordered child custody agreements have not kept pace.

Statistics reveal that 80 percent of cases award full physical custody of children to mothers. Not accounting for orders protecting children from abusive and neglectful fathers, the decisions are very close to being one-sided

According to a recent study, the lack of shared parenting plans flies in the face of the “best interests of children” standard. Linda Nielsen, a professor of adolescent and educational psychology at Wake Forest University, reexamined 44 previously published studies on divorce conflict and its impact on children.

Her findings revealed that children in shared custody arrangements do better in all aspects of their lives. Nielsen’s in-depth review revealed a simple recipe that can provide a healthy and happy future for children: Mom and dad who keep parental conflict at a minimum and love and guidance from both parents at a maximum.

Nielsen also takes to task the decades-old assumption by judges that conflict between divorcing parents brings unbearable stress to children. Far too many see shared parenting as putting children in the middle of disagreements while feeling the pressure of loyalty for one parent over the other.

That outdated approach results in the equally antiquated decision to place children in mom’s home for stability with dad getting one night a week and every other weekend. In fairness, some parents do not help overcome that assumption by exaggerating and provoking conflict to secure sole custody.

Dr. Ned Holstein, a public health practitioner and founder of the National Parents Organization, not only shares Nielsen’s sentiment, but also believes that family court practices need reform. He found that children are more optimistic, perform better in school, and are less likely to get pregnant and use drugs.

Holstein cited what he referred to as “excellent shared parenting legislation” in Arizona and handful of other states as a promising trend towards more shared parenting agreements.

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