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50/50 Parenting: Quantity versus Quality

I recently came across Edward Kruk, PhD's article in Psychology Today entitled "Equal Parenting and the Quality of Parent-Child Attachments." The article summarizes research on parenting plans that I have found useful in support of some clients' requests for equal parenting time (R. Bauserman, "A meta-analysis of parental satisfaction, adjustment and conflict in joint custody and sole custody following divorce," Journal of Divorce and Remarriage [2012]; W.V. Fabricius, "Parenting time, parent conflict, parent-child relationships, and children's physical health," Parenting Plan Evaluations: Applied Research for the Family Court [2011]).

Here are a few highlights in support of equal parenting of children of separation and divorce:

  • "Although shared parenting provides a number of benefits to children, it is equal parenting that is the optimal arrangement for most children of divorce. This includes children caught in the middle of high parental conflict."
  • "Equal parental responsibility provides a context and climate for the continuation or development of high quality parent-child relationships, allowing both parents to remain authoritative, responsible, involved, attached, emotionally available, supportive, and focused on children's day-to-day lives. Attachment bonds are formed through mutual participation in daily routines, including bedtime and waking rituals, transitions to and from school, and extracurricular and recreational activities."
  • "The idea that children form primary bonds with only one primary parent, espoused by some child psychologists, is reflected in comments such as, "children have one primary attachment figure, the person they prefer to offer them comfort in times of anxiety or pain." Those who promote such a view cut off the possibility that children develop multiple primary attachments, meaning that they are secure in turning to more than one person (usually equally to the mother and father) to offer them comfort in times of anxiety or pain, and also to share times of joy."

When I have shared these excerpts with clients embroiled in contested custody proceedings, I found it helped them clearly articulate exactly why they sought equal parenting. In my view, especially in low-conflict cases where a parent makes a conscious decision (and, in some cases, a significant sacrifice) to remain within close proximity to their co-parent, children adapt well to the concept of having two home bases. If the research proves that children can develop multiple primary attachments, then parenting plans (under appropriate circumstances) should be formulated to allow children to reap the benefits of equal access to their primary attachments. Thus, under a successful 50/50 co-parenting plan, equal time with each parent should equate to the child having equal access to each primary attachment. Over time, as seems to be the case in many intact families, a child may turn to one parent or another for the provision of particular needs. Differences between parents in terms of gender, personality, life experience, etc., may be a driving factor behind such a natural affinity; but a child should not be directed or pushed to turn to one parent or another, in good times or bad, simply because of how much parenting time one parent has compared to the other. With so much focus in the news recently on equal opportunity employment, perhaps we should coin the term "equal opportunity parenting plan," as children of separation and divorce should live their lives free from discriminatory practices that pit one parent against another based on skewed, often arbitrary percentages of parenting time.

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