We've come a long way since we were children and mothers were routinely given full custody of the children and fathers frequently disappeared and less frequently received a standard visitation schedule of every other weekend visits. In fact, we've come so far that now many courts don't call it "visitation" but more aptly, "Parenting time".
We have seen the damage done to children raised without male role models. We have learned our lessons. Now we believe that any child deserves to share as much time as possible with both parents, if they are willing. Most courts will now consider a joint physical custody request and many states will now grant it barring any information presented that would make this sort of arrangement unhealthy for the children.
Although a child's need for a healthy relationship with BOTH parents can't be denied, I believe the extreme turn toward promoting shared custody of children is yet another trend with unforeseen consequences to children and families, alike.
Because of the newer popularity of these arrangements, I know more and more families who share custody. Of all the families I know, none are truly satisfied and most have an extremely unhealthy family dynamic. I am sure cases exist where both parents and all involved children are very satisfied; however I think this is the exception rather than the rule unfortunately.
So what has gone wrong?
In theory joint custody sounds terrific. The children get the best of both worlds, time with both parents. They grow up without any of the trauma associated with divorce because they remain in frequent contact with both parents who interact as a solid co-parenting unit, just like in an intact family.
The problem is the reality rarely looks like this. The reality is that many parents are simply "settling" for shared custody because they fear the money, time and emotional energy they would lose in a full custody fight. Some parents consider the way their ex-spouse parented within the marriage to be of little consequence and don't foresee any problems with sharing. Many parents consider their own needs and the benefits of shared parenting on their own schedules, logistically. This can be a huge motivation for newly single parents to share custody. Raising kids alone is hard work. Sharing the responsibilities is certainly appealing.
But then reality sets in for many of these parents and their children. Some children truly thrive on consistency and often the only type of consistency available in a shared custody arrangement is the consistency that nothing will be consistent! As children grow, their needs change and they have more and more need to develop roots within their community. It can be difficult or impossible for a child to feel settled when their physical environment is changing all the time. When kids become teens, their social network can become seemingly more important than their familial network and being taken away from sports, activities and friends to spend equal time in another environment will often not work at all. Those are all factors that most parents can't control unless they live in the same area as each other.
But there are problems that even parents who are neighbors often can't avoid. It is not unusual for divorced parents to "come out of their shell", to change and alter how their parent their children without the influence of another adult to take into consideration. Shared parenting situations require that both parents continue to take into consideration each other's needs, concerns and opinions and work together. When one or both single parents try to "grow into their own" as single parents, working together can seem impossible. You might find that many of the areas you used to agree on are no longer areas of agreement. You might find values and standards that you took for granted within the marriage are nothing like you thought they would be. You might find that one parent or both are too busy or too tired to enforce the rules or communicate the rules between the households. Disciplinary consistency is almost impossible in joint custody homes.
Many of the same conflicts that existed during the marriage and led to divorce will be present, often at even higher levels, in the post-divorce relationship. How you split expenses and child support can be simple in shared custody situations or it can be excruciating.
When one or both parents remarry, the opportunity for problems grows exponentially. Now, not only are you trying to continue to peacefully and respectfully co-parent between two parents who could not even get along well enough to remain married but add in one or two additional new parents to the mix who bring with them their own expectations, values, interests, concerns and opinions. Parents who managed to peacefully co-parent before are often taken aback completely when the other parent remarries and suddenly changes in many ways.
Last, but certainly not least, there is the baggage. Like it or not, both women and men often carry emotional baggage that they have yet to heal from their divorce. This baggage all to often is transferred onto the kids. All of the all-too-common mistakes made in Top 12 Divorced Parenting Mistakes still appear in shared parenting situations, quite often. And when they do, the consequences can be heightened as the opportunity for conflict, alienation, putting children in the middle, emotionally inappropriate parenting and lack of discipline grow with the frequency of transferring kids between homes.
Read more at parenting.families.com
Parents should think long and hard about the short and long term challenges of shared parenting for their children and themselves. Every relationship is different and unique and brings with it challenges that some may be able to work through and others simply won't. Shared parenting shouldn't ever be entered into as a compromise for parents who both want full custody. Instead it should always be entered into as a choice made for the children who both deserve as much time as possible with both parents.