Find out about situations where shared parenting may need more consideration. In some cases, it may still be possible to make shared parenting work, while in other cases another parenting arrangement might be in the best interests of the child.
For a summary of five main domains that should be evaluated while considering shared parenting, see Smyth, Mcintosh, Emery & Howarth’s review (pg. 162-163). These include safety and emotional security, parenting quality and the parent child relationship, child-related factors, the nature and exercise of the parenting arrangements & practical issues.
Experts agree when either or both parents have been violent through physical, verbal, or psychological abuse of the other parent, a comprehensive assessment is necessary before a shared parenting plan is considered.
Such violence can be destructive to a parents’ ability to raise their children with the sensitivity and structure that would promote family safety and wellbeing.
Moreover, family violence negatively affects children’s wellbeing directly and a child’s chance of healthy development is diminished when if a child is directly involved in the conflict.
Research from Australia has found that where mothers report safety concerns, child wellbeing is lower regardless of the care arrangement, but that this is worse for children in shared time arrangements. it is important to recognize that both mothers and fathers can cause concern for safety.
Moreover, in cases of violence, extra concern should be taken as the cooperation inherent in shared parenting arrangements creates numerous opportunities for the perpetrator to continue patterns of manipulation, violence, and control on the other parent. (Pruett & DiFonzo)
Smyth, Mcintosh, Emery & Howarth suggest that the following aspects should be considered when assessing not only physical safety but also emotional security of a shared parenting arrangement:
- each parent’s current capacity to keep the child physically safe
- each parent’s established caregiving relationship with the child is one in which the child finds adequate comfort and support
- the parenting arrangement neither exposes the child to violent, threatening behaviors by one or both parents nor perpetuates fear within either parent
- the parenting arrangement protects the child from witnessing or being drawn into intense interparental conflict, hostile levels of contempt, extreme levels of unresolved anger or grief, and/or dysfunctional communication
Relationships Scotland makes the following recommendations for those who are concerned about safety:
If you have concerns about your own safety, the following organisations may be able to help:
Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline 0800 027 1234
Galop Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) Domestic Violence charity
Shakti Women’s Aid helps black minority ethnic women, children and young people
- If you have concerns about your own safety, or the safety of your children, because of violence or abuse, alcohol or substance misuse, or other issues, professional advice and help is recommended.
- If you or your child is in immediate danger, you should contact the police on 999 straight away.
- You can get advice and support from your local Social Work Department.
If you have concerns about your children’s safety, the following organisations may be able to help:
ChildLine 0800 1111
Parentline 08000 28 22 23
The Hideout a website to help children and young people understand domestic abuse
Although shared parenting may have benefits for a family, the dangers of ongoing conflict that is not child-centered must be considered.
A study has suggested there is a risk to children being exposed to parental conflict and feeling torn between parents. Moreover Australian research has found a link between shared time arrangements with high conflict and poor child outcomes.
However, it is important to recognize the difference between the impact of an abusive relationship and the impact of the kind of short term conflict that is likely to occur when a relationship breaks down.
Parents who fall into one of the following categories may not be considered appropriate for shared parenting arrangements (unless they can agree safely to raise the children with parallel parenting strategies):
- Do not attempt to remove themselves or their children from conflict
- Do not commit to supporting the presence of the other parent in their child’s life
- Are unable to collaborate in making mature decisions that are truly child centred
It is important that parents are able to address these issues themselves.
When is shared parenting possible?
- The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts think tank has said that where parents have moderate to low conflict and can make cooperative, developmentally informed decisions about parenting, children would benefit from shared parenting arrangements.In fact negotiations that lead to shared parenting can reduce conflict.
- To avoid harm to children any conflict (if it exists) should be ‘contained’ (Emery et. al. 2005)
- Arguably, positive outcomes for children in shared parenting arrangements can be attributed to the fact that these families often parent cooperatively, flexibly and without court interference (Fehlberg & Smyth 2011). For families with conflict, there may be more beneficial ways to solve their disputes out of court for example with family mediation.
- Often conflict only becomes a problem for children when it is regular, long-term and enduring. Most parents manage to establish a basis for parenting after separation though compromise. Read some of the personal stories submitted by parents to find out when families can make it work.
‘Separated But Still Integrated’
Research into the parenting attributes which, from the child’s perspective, are core to creating security and contentment in shared time parenting arrangements include parental willingness and ability to:
- Sometimes share the same physical space without conflict in front of the child
- Share pride in their child on occasions that are meaningful to the child e.g. school/sporting events
- Create benign intimacy when together in the child’s presence (e.g. sharing a laugh)
- Enable the child to connect with the parent who isn’t around, especially to contact this parent in times of need, without having to worry about hurting the other parent
- Build the sense of living in a separated but still integrated family ( e.g. by joining together for events of significance to the child)
- Prioritise the child’s needs
Research shows that a child’s best interests are closely linked to a parent’s capacities and skills as well as material resources. Parents should be able to offer parenting capability which includes being both available and flexible, particularity during shared parenting.
Pruett & DiFonzo suggest the following qualities should be taken into account to determine the capability of the parent:
- Qualities of the parent: including temperament, mental health, sensitivity to child’s early developmental needs, capacity and willingness to be flexible as child’s needs get expressed, and capacity and interest in effecting cooperation in childrearing domains and economic resources.
- Nature of each parent–child relationship: including warmth, availability, ability to discern and respond, to the child’s needs, caregiving history, caregiving interest and motivation, and history of perpetrating child abuse or neglect.
Smyth, Mcintosh, Emery & Howarth suggest that the following aspects should be considered when assessing parenting quality & the parent-child relationship in a shared parenting arrangement:
- the arrangement ensures the parenting relationships experienced by the child are supportive, and the child is not subject to caregiving that, by omission or commission, is repeatedly distressing to the child or in which the impact of known parenting vulnerabilities are buffered by other supportive influences;
- it is also an arrangement that supports a parent’s wellbeing and minimize parenting stress
- the child is not subject to interactions with new family members that are repeatedly distressing to the child or undermine the child’s relationship with one or both parents.
Part of being a capable parent in a shared parenting arrangement is the ability to be flexible and adaptable to a child’s needs. Research has found that flexibility is a top priority in parenting arrangements, particularity for teenagers. Moreover, further research suggests that rigid shared time arrangements may lead to elevated hyperactivity, particularly for boys.
Smyth, Mcintosh, Emery & Howarth suggest that the following aspects should be considered when assessing the nature and exercise of a shared parenting arrangement:
- the parenting arrangement is structured and exercised by parents in a manner that creates for the child an experience of a connected family life
- the “terms” of the parenting arrangement prioritize being responsive and accommodating to the child’s needs
- transition and handover periods are low-stress experiences for the child
- the child’s need for access to the “absent” parent (be that the greater-time or lesser-time parent) is supported and enabled by the present parent
- the child is supported with the planning and coordination that a shared parenting arrangement requires, especially in logistically complex timeshare arrangements
You may be able to improve your parenting capabilities by taking a parenting course. Parenting Across Scotland has complied a list of free courses offered in different areas around Scotland.