Coparenting Children with Disabilities by Jeremy Kanter


Although divorce rates are high among parents of children with disabilities (e.g., Hartley, Barker, Seltzer, Greenberg,  Bolt, Floyd, & Orsmond, 2010) coparenting education classes are just beginning to develop tracks, components, or programs for separating or divorcing parents who have children with disabilities. At the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) annual conference last month, the fact that coparenting education classes have neglected to attend to special circumstances linked to coparenting a child with a disability was discussed in a few of the sessions I attended.  I followed up with a few coparenting education classes when I returned from the conference and was energized to learn that some of the online programs are beginning to address this issue!

Michelle Muncy of  Online Parenting Programs is one example of an online program that is planning to develop an online coparenting education program for parents who are coparenting children with disabilities. Focus on Kids, an online coparenting education class developed by Dr. David Schramm and colleagues at The University of Missouri is another example. Focus on Kids now offers fact sheets for families with special circumstances. The fact sheets that Dr. Schramm and colleagues have created for divorcing parents who have children with disabilities cover a range of topics that are especially relevant to this special circumstance; some of the topics include:

  •  Custodial rights or what to expect as a primary caregiver of a child with a disability
  • How to divide medical costs for children with disabilities
  • The children’s cognitive capacity to understand their parents’ divorce
  • Special issues that need to be documented in parenting plans
  • Issues specific to children who have life-threatening, chronic, psychological & behavioral disabilities

With the high divorce rates for parents of children with disabilities, some of these issues in the Focus on Kidsresources are crucial components to coparenting education. Although many parents experience similar challenges when going through the separation or divorce process, it is important for programs to address the unique needs and challenges linked to families with special circumstances. Special circumstances are not limited to children with disabilities; coparenting when intimate partner violence, alcoholism, or military duties influence parents’ roles also provide unique challenges in the separation processes. In some situations, one parent may be largely absent from the child’s life, and these families may benefit from additional support in educational settings (online or face-to-face). Although the transition to tailoring information to families with special circumstances has been slow, it is promising to see that programs have begun to address these issues!

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New Child Support Research Findings


Goldberg, J. S. (2015). Coparenting and Nonresident Fathers’ Monetary Contributions to Their Children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(3), 612-627. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12191

Kane, J. B., Nelson, T. J., & Edin, K. (2015). How Much In-Kind Support Do Low-Income Nonresident Fathers Provide? A Mixed-Method Analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(3), 591-611. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12188

 

Parental Alienation– An Update 2015


Parental alienation continues to be a disputed concept among researchers, clinicians and legal experts.  I have updated my list of research articles on this topic (2010-2015).

For a thoughtful history of the study and controversies regarding parental alienation see:

Rand, D. C. (2011). Parental alienation critics and the politics of science. American Journal of Family Therapy, 39(1), 48-71. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01926187.2010.533085

New Report on State Laws About Shared Parenting


A national organization of parents who support “shared parenting” after divorce have issued a new report that rates states regarding their state law on this issue.  This map shows their rankings, see the report.  Shared Parenting Rating by National Parents Organization

Shared Parenting Guidelines: Consensus or Not?


There has been considerable debate among scientists about the best practice and policy regarding guidelines for shared parenting.  During the past few years there have been several reviews of the research evidence regarding shared parenting following divorce and the recommendations don’t always agree.  There are two new reports each with an array of scientists and practitioners.

So here is one interesting note.  Only Richard Warshak is on both lists.

One of these reports, authored by Richard Warshak, titled, “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children:  A Consensus Report” includes the endorsement of 110 scientists and practitioners.  In the introduction he writes,

“One hundred and ten researchers and practitioners have read, provided comments, and offered revisions to this article.  They endorse the article’s conclusions and recommendations, although they may not agree with every detail of the literature review” (Warshak, 2014, p. 46).

This is an impressive list of many of the major scientists who study divorce issues.  This list includes 79 professionals who list universities or research centers as their primary affiliation and 31 professional in clinical practice.  So what about the people who are not on the list:  There are a number of prominent scientists who are not on the list.  Were they contacted?  Did they refuse because they disagreed with the recommendations or were too busy to respond?  Perhaps they just didn’t like the whole idea of “endorsing” these conclusions.  Nevertheless, none of the other participants who compiled the following report and whose names are listed below are on Warshak’s “consensus” article, why not?  At least one answer is that there is not quite the consensus that Warshak presents.

The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts convened a task force to explore research regarding shared parenting.  In contrast to Warshak’s “consensus” view, the task force report provides various points of view, the disagreements and the research questions that need more study.  (This is the original unpublished Task Force Report.)  The most recent version of the report was made public in Family Court Review, April 2014. The editors write, 

“The Think Tank Report describes a series of research-based key points on which the multidisciplinary think tank participants agreed. Nonetheless, that agreement did not extend to how the consensus should be enacted into legislative or judicial policy to resolve contested parenting disputes” (Emery & Schepard, 2014).

Both of these reports are important to read and to study.  Perhaps the most important part of the Task Force report is the list of questions that still need more study.  There is still much to understand in order to provide guidance to practitioners and policymakers.

So here is the list of the AFCC Task Force Members:

Convenors: 

  • Arnold Shienvold, Ph.D. (Co-Chair),
  • Peter Salem, M.A. (Co-Chair),
  • Marsha Kline Pruett, Ph.D., M.S.L. (Co-Reporter),
  • J. Herbie DiFonzo, J.D., Ph.D. (Co-Reporter),
  • Bernie Mayer, Ph.D. (Facilitator),
  • Loretta M. Frederick, J.D. (Steering Committee),
  • Hon. Ramona Gonzales (Steering Committee),
  • Stacey Platt, J.D. (Steering Committee), and
  • Kyle D. Pruett, M.D. (Steering Committee).

Participants:

  • Nicholas Bala, J.D.,
  • Lawrence Jay Braunstein, J.D.,
  • Margaret F. Brinig, J.D.,
  • Bud Dale, J.D., Ph.D.,
  • Robin Deutsch, Ph.D.,
  • Hon. Grace G. Dickler,
  • Leslie Drozd, Ph.D.,
  • Robert Emery, Ph.D.,
  • William V. Fabricius, Ph.D.,
  • Hon. William Fee,
  • Jonathan Gould, Ph.D.,
  • Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed.,
  • Hon. Dianna Gould-Saltman,
  • Grace M. Hawkins, LCSW,
  • Leslye Hunter, LMFT,
  • Janet R. Johnston, Ph.D.,
  • Joan B. Kelly, Ph.D.,
  • Jennifer McIntosh, Ph.D.,
  • Anne Menard,
  • Irwin Sandler, Ph.D.,
  • Andrew Schepard, J.D.,
  • Richard A. Warshak, Ph.D., and
  • Justice R. James Williams.

Invited but unable to attend:

  • Chief Justice Diana Bryant (Family Court, Australia),
  • Jean Clinton, M.D.,
  • Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis (Colo. Sup. Ct., ret.),
  • Michael Lamb, Ph.D.,
  • Robert Marvin, Ph.D., and
  • Leslie Ellen Shear, J.D.

Shared Parenting: A Debate Among Experts


There is an extensive debate about the “right” custody policies and practices in courts and the research evidence for and against various shared parenting plans.  Much of the focus of the dispute is in regards to the evidence regarding overnight stays for young children in non-custodial parent homes.   Articles by Nielsen and Warshak make make strong critiques of the work by McIntosh that has highlighted possible negative outcomes for young children in these arrangements.  McIntosh and colleagues also present their own analysis of the evidence.  In their editorial statement for Family Court Review, Emery and Schepard note that there is not yet a consensus on all policy matters, but there are some areas of agreement.

See these articles for a deeper analysis of these issues.  

Braver, S. L. (2014). The costs and pitfalls of individualizing decisions and incentivizing conflict: A comment on AFCC’s think tank report on shared parenting. Family Court Review, 52(2), 175-180. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12079

Brinig, M. F., Frederick, L. M., & Drozd, L. M. (2014). Perspectives on joint custody presumptions as applied to domestic violence cases. Family Court Review, 52(2), 271-281. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12090

DiFonzo, J. H. (2014). From the rule of one to shared parenting: Custody presumptions in law and policy. Family Court Review, 52(2), 213-239. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12086

Emery, R. E., & Schepard, A. (2014). April 2014. Family Court Review, 52(2), 143-144. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12076

Jaffe, P. (2014). A presumption against shared parenting for family court litigants. Family Court Review, 52(2), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12081

Lamb, M. E. (2014). Dangers associated with the avoidance of evidence-based practice. Family Court Review, 52(2), 193-197. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12082

McIntosh, J. E., Pruett, M. K., & Kelly, J. B. (2014). Parental separation and overnight care of young children, part II: Putting theory into practice. Family Court Review, 52(2), 256-262. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12088

Miller, S. (2014). Judicial discretion and the voice of the child in resolving custody disputes: Comments on the think tank report. Family Court Review, 52(2), 198-199. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12083

Nielsen, L. (2013). Shared residential custody: Review of the research (part I of II). American Journal of Family Law, 27(1), 61-71. 

Nielsen, L. (2013). Shared residential custody: Review of the research (part II of II). American Journal of Family Law, 27(2), 123-137. 

Nielsen, L. (2014). Woozles: Their role in custody law reform, parenting plans, and family court. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 20(2), 164-180. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/law0000004

Pruett, M. K., & DiFonzo, J. H. (2014). Advancing the shared parenting debate, one step at a time: Responses to the commentaries. Family Court Review, 52(2), 207-212. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12085

Pruett, M. K., & DiFonzo, J. H. (2014). Closing the gap: Research, policy, practice, and shared parenting. Family Court Review, 52(2), 152-174. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12078

Pruett, M. K., McIntosh, J. E., & Kelly, J. B. (2014). Parental separation and overnight care of young children, part I: Consensus through theoretical and empirical integration. Family Court Review, 52(2), 240-255. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12087

Salem, P., & Shienvold, A. T. (2014). Closing the gap without getting to yes: Staying with the shared parenting debate. Family Court Review, 52(2), 145-151. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12077

Scott, E. S. (2014). Planning for children and resolving custodial disputes: A comment on the think tank report. Family Court Review, 52(2), 200-206. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12084

Ver Steegh, N., & Gould-Saltman, H. D. (2014). Joint legal custody presumptions: A troubling legal shortcut. Family Court Review, 52(2), 263-270. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12089

Warshak, R. A. (2014). Social science and parenting plans for young children: A consensus report. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 20(1), 46-67. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/law0000005

Should infants sleep overnight with nonresidential fathers: The debate continues


One of the most complicated and often contentious issues for separating parents is whether or not very young children (under age 3) should spend the night in both households.  On the one hand, many advocates of continued father involvement encourage dads to stay involved and some of these dads want to keep their children overnight.  However, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that suggests that young children’s well-being may be adversely affected by frequent overnight stays for young children.

Samantha Tornello and colleagues (2013) published some important new evidence that suggests that frequent overnight stays by infants and toddlers with their non-reseidential fathers can contribute to insecure attachments.  (Note:  Attachment has been found to be a strong predictor of child and adult psychological adjustment and seems to be the foundation of positive relationships with others (See Bretherton, et al., 2011).  

In February 2014, Paul Millar and Edward Kruk published an article taking issue with some of the analyses and interpretations in the Tornello et al. paper.  Two of the authors of the original paper (Emery & Tornello, 2014) responded to the issues raised by Millar and Kruk.  Some of the critique by Millar and Kruk appears to be confusion about whether the findings.  Due to the mislabeling of a table (Table 5), Millar and Kruk interpreted these finding in the opposite direction of Tornello et al.  Many of their other criticisms such as the validity of the attachment measure and the limits of the sample are important and require careful interpretation of the findings, but await other evidence to determine whether these findings hold up.  At the moment 4 out 5 studies of this issue have found that overnight stays by infants and/or toddlers leads to attachment issues.

The one issue raised by Millar and Kruk that was not addressed by Emery and Tornello is the attachment of these children to other caregivers– the non-residential fathers, grandparents, child care providers, etc.  I have not looked carefully at the other information we know about the participants in the Fragile Families study, but these families were “fragile families.”  Could staying overnight with non-residential fathers represent the degree of chaos in the mothers’ household rather than “paternal involvement?”  How are the residents in the “father’s household”– grandparents or not? i don’t know the answers to these questions, but it would be good to find out more about these issues.

Finally, all of the studies to date have some limitations and this evidence cannot be described as definitive.  This is a complicated issue and no single study should be the basis for policy and practice by America’s court system, but this new work by Tornello and colleagues has provided a thoughtful analysis.  

For references and further reading on these issues see the following:   

Bretherton, I, Seligman, S, Solomon, J, Crowell, J. McIntosh, J. (2011). “If I could tell the judge something about attachment…” Perspectives on attachment theory in the family
law courtroom. Family Court Review, 49, 539-548.  doi: 10.1111/j.1744-1617.2011.01391.x

Emery, R. E., & Tornello, S. L. (2014). Rejoinder to Millar and Kruk (2014): Who assumes the burden of proof when there is no neutral null hypothesis? Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(1), 237-240. doi:10.1111/jomf.12070

George, C., Solomon, J. and McIntosh, J, (2011). Divorce in the Nursery: On infants and overnight care. Family Court Review, 49, 521-529. doi:  10.1111/j.1744-1617.2011.01389.x

McIntosh, J., Smyth, B., Kelaher, M., Wells, Y., & Long, C. (2010). Post-separation parenting arrangements and developmental outcomes for infants and children. Canberra, Australia: Attorney General’s Department.

Millar, P., & Kruk, E. (2014). Maternal attachment, paternal overnight contact, and very young children’s adjustment: Comment on Tornello et al. (2013). Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(1), 232-236. doi:10.1111/jomf.12071 

Solomon, J., & George, C. (1999). The development of attachment in separated and divorced families: Effects of overnight visitation, parent, and couple variables. Attachment and Human Development, 1, 2-33.  doi:  10.1080/14616739900134011

Solomon, J., & George, C. (1999). The effects of overnight visitation in divorced and separated families: A longitudinal follow-up. In J. Solomon & C. George (Eds.), Attachment Disorganization (pp. 243-264). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Tornello, S. L., Emery, R., Rowen, J., Potter, D., Ocker, B. and Xu, Y. (2013), Overnight Custody Arrangements, Attachment, and Adjustment Among Very Young Children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75, 871–885. doi: 10.1111/jomf.12045