Shared Parenting – Evaluated honestly
National Parents Organization
May 14, 2014 by Robert Franklin.
The excitement in the family law world occasioned by two papers – one by Dr. Richard Warshak that was endorsed by 110 eminent social scientists around the world and one by Dr. Linda Nielsen – has died down a bit with no blood actually having been shed. Whew, that was a close call. Warshak, et al and Nielsen thoroughly skewered work done by Dr. Jennifer McIntosh and colleagues that was widely used by various Australian organizations involved in parenting post-divorce to marginalize fathers, particularly regarding children under the age of three. McIntosh’s work was cited time and again for the proposition that fathers having their very young children overnight was a bad idea. Australian courts embraced the notion as did custody evaluators, lawyers and the like.
About that, Warshak, et al said this:
Advocates are promoting a report issued by an Australian government agency (McIntosh, Smyth, & Kelaher, 2010) as a basis for decisions regarding parenting plans for children of preschool age and younger. Accounts of the report appearing in the media, in professional seminars, in legislative briefs, and in court directly contradict the actual data, overlook results that support opposite conclusions, and mislead their audience.
A “background paper” describing the Australian report, posted on the Internet (McIntosh & the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, 2011), illustrates all three characteristics.
In short, according to 111 prominent scientists, both McIntosh and fellow authors, and advocates that use their work to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children, make claims that “contradict the actual data, overlook results that support opposite conclusions, and mislead their audience.”
If you’re a researcher in the field of children and their well-being under various parenting arrangements, as McIntosh is, that’s a blow to your reputation that could conceivably be fatal. Face it, when 111 scientists around the world combine to condemn your work and attempt to set straight the scientific record on overnights for kids, Houston, you have a problem.
But that wasn’t all. Certain Australian organizations began publicly proclaiming their intention to stop using McIntosh’s work as a guide to their decisions about parenting and to heed the extensive literature review by Warshak, et al. People and organizations have begun to run away from McIntosh and her views on the subject of parenting plans for very young children. Academic researchers rely on grants to do their work. A bad reputation, particularly a biased bad reputation is not the stuff of funding for future research.
Not only that, but, shortly before Warshak, et al published their review of the science, Dr. Linda Nielsen published her own take on McIntosh’s work. It wasn’t flattering. Entitled “Woozles: Their Role in Custody Law Reform, Parenting Plans and Family Court,” it was nominally a cautionary tale about the uses and misuses of social science, but its main targets were McIntosh and her colleagues and the uses of their work to further marginalize fathers in children’s lives.
That brought Nielsen to the science on overnights for children of separated parents. Should very young children, i.e. those under five, spend some nights with each parent or every night with one? If “some with each” is the correct answer, then how much with each? Some 31 studies have delved into the issue of shared versus sole or primary parenting when children have some overnight visits with Dad. Of those, eight have dealt with children under six, among them one by McIntosh, Smyth, Kelaher and Wells published in 2010.
As Nielsen makes clear, the first six of those studies offer essentially nothing to back up the claim – the woozle – that even very young children should not spend overnights with their fathers. Indeed, children whose parents had previously been married and who frequently spent overnights with their fathers did better than those who didn’t. There were “no differences in social or behavior adjustment”¦ and frequent overnighters had better relationships with their fathers and were better adjusted emotionally.”
Three other studies examined the children of parents who may not have ever been married. As such, some of the children had not been able to form secure attachments to their fathers and so, their responses to spending overnights away from Mom could be seen as more problematical. But, “overall the frequent overnighters had marginally better outcomes, even after accounting for parents’ levels of violence, conflict, and education. More important, violence between the parents had no worse impact on the frequent overnighters than on the other children.”
That leaves two studies, McIntosh, et al previously mentioned and another by Tornello, Emery, et al. The Tornello study was astonishingly flawed in at least two respects. First, it relied exclusively on data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing data that have been gathered by McLanahan and her colleagues since 1998. The people making up McLanahan’s cohort are utterly unrepresentative of the population of Americans and certainly not of Australians. Nielsen describes the cohort thus:
So whatever else may be said about the Tornello study, it’s clear that extrapolating it to the population at large is intellectually impossible.
Even so, their findings revealed no reason why children should not spend overnights with their fathers.
Consistent with the seven studies already described, there were virtually no differences between the overnighters and nonovernighters. On 14 regression analyses for the seven measures of well-being, only one statistically significant difference emerged: The children who frequently overnighted at age 3 years displayed more positive behavior at age 5 years than the rare or no overnights groups.
That brings us to McIntosh, et al, about whose work I’ll say more next time.
Have You Woozled a Judge?
North Carolina Bar Association
Article Date: Wednesday, March 05, 2014 Written By: Judge Laurie Hutchins
How often do you wonder “what was that judge thinking?” after she rules on your custody case? In this article I will tell you a secret: what every district court judge learned at our Fall 2013 Conference on shared custody and what the judge might be thinking at your next hearing.
We heard from Dr. Linda Neilsen, Ed.D., a professor of Adolescent and Educational Psychology at Wake Forest University, on the topic of shared residential custody, defined as 35% to 50% of the time with both parents. She is an expert on the topics of divorced father-daughter relationships and shared parenting after divorce. She has written four books on the father-daughter relationship and been featured on PBS and NPR. She has written numerous journal articles and a college textbook on adolescent psychology.
Her goal at our conference was to debunk myths about shared parenting. She did this by giving us a true/false quiz to show us we had been “woozled.” You may remember the Woozle in Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. Pooh and Piglet follow tracks in the snow believing they are tracks left by the Woozle. Christopher Robin solves the mystery and discovers poor Pooh and Piglet are following their own tracks. The woozle effect, also known as evidence by citation, occurs when frequent citation of previous publications that lack evidence misleads readers into thinking there is evidence.
Dr. Nielsen blew these studies to smithereens during her presentation! There are now 33 studies on shared parenting. It took her five years to review all of them.
She enthusiastically concluded shared parenting is the better custodial plan. She found in her review of all the studies that children benefit from maximizing non-residential father time to include more overnights even if there is high conflict between the parents. She found children want more time with their father and the effect is better adjusted kids.
She gave us the following “rules”:
Parents do not have to be good buddies to share custody.
It can be successful by court order [not agreed to by the parties].
Conflict usually declines over a 1 to 2 year time period. And most importantly, it will decrease more quickly in a shared parenting plan than standard weekend plan.
Shared parenting does not have to be co-parenting. It can be parallel parenting [if conflict then okay with little communication].
Highest level of conflict is the swap. Therefore, limit transition as much as possible. Exchange at school is okay.
High conflict is offset by the high relationship with both parents.
Shared parenting had better results for kids for drinking and drug problems.
Shared parent kids had better relationships with their fathers later in life than those with a standard weekend visitation. They could talk to their father about things that bother them during the shared custody.
There is no negative outcome for babies to have overnights with father.
Studies showed kids like the shared parenting plans; “two homes is no home” is a myth.
In conclusion, out of 33 studies, 31 showed equal or better results for kids with shared parenting. Only two studies showed mixed results.
For a fascinating read I refer you to her article “Shared Residential Custody: Review of the Research [Part I of II]” in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage  and to her website, [email protected].
Jennifer McIntosh visited NZ around 2012 and gave continuing education for psychologists who write s133 reports for familycaught. Now that her work has been put into a more realistic perspective, I wonder if a large number of s133 reports should be withdrawn and rewritten? Then this would lead on to having to rehear thousands of custody hearings.
I guess because of the cost, this being more important than integrity, this will never happen?