Every active and loving parent wants to be there for their children, and divorce does not negate that from being true. Just because a dysfunctional and unhappy marriage ended, it does not mean that your role and your responsibility as a present and participating father is over.
In fact, most fathers would argue that this role and responsibility is worth fighting for.
In child custody cases, the goal for the judge is to decide what is in the best interests of the child. Their growth, their personal well-being, and their development are among the sentiments that weigh on them as they determine which of the homes would be the best environment for the child.
In analyzing the custody schedule and parenting plan, judges are examining how much the conflict within the divorce affects the co-parenting dynamic and how much that conflict affects the shared child’s well-being.
In a study from Wake Forest University, published in the American Psychological Association’s journal “Psychology, Public Policy, and Law,” researchers take an up-to-date look at to what extend conflict and the quality of the parents’ relationship with one another should or should not influence the custody arrangement.
The study examined the impact of the quality of the co-parenting relationship and asked if the custody decision-making process put too much or too little emphasis on strong parent-child relationships and joint physical custody.
The study found that many outlets make exaggerated claims about the links between conflict, co-parenting, joint physical custody plans, and the well-being of the child. The study also did not conclude that frequently being exposed to or dragged into the middle of an ongoing, intense, physically aggressive, or frightening conflict will have little to no impact on children. Nor did this study conclude that attentive and authoritative parenting, strong parent-child relationships, or joint physical custody will eradicate the negative impact that intense conflict will have on children.
There are many reasons cited for the results of the study. The level of conflict and the quality of the co-parenting relationship are often not as closely correlated with children’s well-being as the quality of the parent-child relationship. The connection between conflict and children’s well-being is mediated by the quality of the children’s relationship with their parents.
The study also found that settling custody disputes in court or through protracted legal negotiations like mediation have not been linked to worse outcomes for children. Joint physical custody also is associated with better outcomes for children than sole physical custody, when the co-parents do not initially agree to the parenting plan and even when the conflict at the time of separation or in subsequent years is not low.
They found that most joint physical custody parents do not have substantially less conflict or more collaborative co-parenting relationships than sole physical custody and that limiting the time that children with one of their parents through sole physical custody arrangements is not correlated with better outcomes for children, even when there is considerable conflict and a poor co-parenting relationship.
These results speak of what many who support for joint custody and shared parenting advocate. In creating a stable and civil co-parenting relationship that encourages communication and cooperation, the child is exposed to less conflict. However, being exposed to conflict but having a shared parenting experience is less impactful than only having one parent in a child’s day-to-day life.
This continues to reinforce the notion that regardless of one co-parents’ feelings regarding the other co-parent, a child is better off having both parents in his or her life in some capacity. Even though there may be conflict and unresolved issues between the two co-parents, a child is not better off, if one co-parent is the sole, day-to-day parent.
While physical custody may be granted to one parent over the other, it does not negate the impact that having two parents has on a child’s life and development. Studies like this ease the fears of those who see conflict as a deterrent for co-parenting, when the reality is that even if you, as a divorced parent, may not get along with your ex-spouse/co-parent, it is in the best interest of your child to allow them to be a part of their life.