The jury is in. In fact, it’s been in for a long while: most children do much better in life if they maintain and develop good relationships with both of their parents after a family break-up. The 2020 International Conference on Shared Parenting, held online, brought together experts in family violence and shared parenting who presented and summarised current research.
CONCLUSIONS OF THE FIFTH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
ON SHARED PARENTING
THEME AND GOALS OF THE CONFERENCE
The Fifth International Conference on Shared Parenting, co-sponsored by the International Council on Shared Parenting and the University of British Columbia School of Social Work, brought together scholars and family practitioners from two fields of practice, shared parenting and family violence, under the conference theme, the Intersection of Shared Parenting and Family Violence. Our goals were to open channels of communication and begin a dialogue on the topic, and to develop guidelines with respect to family law and therapeutic practice when parenting after divorce is a contested issue between parents and family violence may be an issue of concern, whether in the past, present or future. We sought to resolve the present impasse concerning how family law should proceed when family violence is an issue of concern in contested cases of child custody. We also sought to address four related issues concerning legal and therapeutic practice at the intersection of shared parenting and family violence: family violence education and training; family violence assessment and screening; specialized interventions in cases of historical family violence; and alternatives to shared parenting in situations of family violence.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THEORETICAL DEVELOPMENT AND FURTHER RESEARCH
- Family violence framed as gender-specific and viewed as “violence against women” should give way to more gender-neutral conceptualizations such as “partner abuse.”
- At the same time, mothers and children are affected by family violence in a different way than fathers, and violence against women and gender-based family violence is a serious issue, especially during parental separation and divorce.
- The state of knowledge about family violence, and parental alienation as a form of family violence, in contested custody cases has advanced significantly in recent years, and this knowledge should be incorporated into reform efforts in professional practice, policy and law.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LAW REFORM, POLICY AND PRACTICE
- Shared parenting is a viable post-divorce parenting arrangement that is optimal to child development and well-being, including for children of non-violent high conflict parents. We thus support a rebuttable legal presumption of shared parenting in family law.
- We support a rebuttable legal presumption against shared parenting in family violence cases.
- Family violence is a criminal law matter, and children witnessing family violence is a child protection concern.
- Parental alienation is a serious form of family violence and child abuse in contested child custody cases.
- We draw attention to needed reforms in professional practice in four key areas:
- The Education and Training of Practitioners in Family Violence During Separation and Divorce
- Screening for Family Violence
- Safety Provisions in Cases of Historical Family Violence Where Specialized Interventions May Enable Shared Parenting
- Alternatives to Shared Parenting in Cases of Family Violence