The authors of a new study into the views of young people whose parents divorced say the government should not proceed with plans to introduce a presumption in favour of shared parenting.
The study, called Taking a longer view of contact: The perspectives of young adults who experienced parental separation in their youth, examines the views and memories of young adults whose parents divorced when they were children. In what is thought to be the first major study of its kind, the researchers interviewed almost 400 people between the ages of 18 and 35 about the ways in which their parents had handled contact after their divorces.
They found that interviewees rarely blamed the parent they lived with for contact with the other parent not happening or being interrupted. The majority said any disruptions had been down to the other parent, the ‘non-resident’ one, or had even been their own decision. ‘Resident’ parents – the ones the children lived with – were much more likely to encourage contact with the other parent than to try and prevent it.
The interviewees also rated quality over quantity when it came to contact with the non-resident parent, and also believed that a good pre-existing relationship with the parent who had left the family home made a big difference to successful contact after divorce:
“One of the most striking findings of the study was the importance of the pre-separation relationship between the child and the parent who subsequently became non-resident. Where relationships had been very close contact was most likely to be both continuous and a positive experience for the child. The foundations of successful contact, then, are laid down pre-separation.”
A sense of commitment to the children from the children was also vital. To quote the report:
“…the extent to which the non-resident parent was considered to have made an effort to make contact an enjoyable, child-focused experience and whether they demonstrated their commitment to the child. Being subjected to adult pursuits or being ignored were taken as indications of their own lack of importance to the non-resident parent.”
Consultation is further message from the report. The children wanted to be consulted on contact arrangements and not be coerced into arrangements they did not like.
As a result, the researchers conclude that:
“Our research suggests… that the proposed legislation [in favour of shared parenting] should not proceed. Rather the courts should retain an unfettered discretion to determine whether or not the welfare of the particular child in question would be furthered by the involvement being sought by the litigant parent. This would accord most closely with one of the major themes in this research, the importance of tailoring contact arrangements to the needs and wishes of the individual child in their particular circumstances. In contrast, the government’s preferred option would commit the courts to adopting a simplistic, broad-brush approach to the subtle complexity of child-parent relationships.”
The study was a joint project between the universities of Sussex and Oxford and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.