Sole custody ‘worst possible outcome’
An eminent social work professor has advocated the benefits of shared parenting, as opposed to the sole custody model, in cases of separation and divorce.
Speaking on the topic of estrangement between children and parents, Dr Edward Kruk called for urgent change to the current “winner-takes-all” approach that he said does not benefit children or parents, and can lead instead to disastrous consequences.
In his speech “Shared Parenting: Moving Bermuda Forward”, given at the Hamilton Rotary Club this week, Dr Kruk said that the removal of a primary parent can fuel family violence, parental alienation and parental disengagement.
All of which, he says, can threaten children's physical and emotional security.
“Unfortunately, as in Bermuda, governments and legislatures have been reluctant to legislate shared parenting, as a result of a number of myths and misperceptions about the concept,” he said.
Dr Kruk suggests shared parenting as a viable alternative to the existing model, as recent research has shown that children in shared parenting homes fare significantly better than those in sole custody arrangements.
He said that shared parenting guarantees that a child maintains a relationship with both parents, and that each parent retains custody and responsibility for their children, unless there is a finding that the child is in need of protection from one or both parents.
He added that shared parenting has also been shown to decrease parental conflict and prevent family violence.
“When one looks at the data, it becomes clear that the sole custody system seems almost tailor-made to produce the worst possible outcome,” Dr Kruk said.
“So we need to remove child custody from the adversarial arena and respect the primary bond between children and both of their parents.”
Shared parenting also reflects children's and parents' preferences and views about their needs and best interests, according to Dr Kruk.
He says it has to be the way forward. “On the matter of child custody, there is a marked disconnect between public opinion and the opinion of the professional elites who defend the status quo,” he added.
“Public opinion polls consistently support a legal presumption of shared parenting, even in high conflict cases.
“It is the responsibility of social institutions, such as the family law system, to support, not undermine, parents in the fulfilment of their responsibilities to their children's needs.”
Dr Kruk is a child and family social worker and social work professor at the University of British Columbia.
He has worked with children and families in both Canada and Britain, in various capacities, for more than 30 years.