Reducing Conflict

The Risks

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