Conventional thinking suggests that levels of shared care need to be reduced in the face of high conflict post separation parenting to favour a single residential parent.
This is based upon a premise that children are more sensitive to high conflict between their parents that forces them to choose between them than they are to the loss of a loving parent.
Parental alienation theory and practice has the potential to invalidate such assumptions.
Research into Parental Alienation (Baker, Amy.J, Warshak. R.) shows that the loss of a loving parent from a child’s life is very harmful indeed, causing increased incidences of mood disorders, relationship difficulties, self-harm, self-destructive behaviours, drug and alcohol addiction. This list of emotional injuries to alienated children is remarkably similar to other forms of child abuse.
Yet, family law, its practitioners and consultants often make parenting orders that enable alienation to entrench by accepting without question the premise that it is better to eliminate a loved parent, usually the alienated or excluded parent than to perpetuate high conflict.
There is enough research (Baker, Amy. J., Warshak. R.) that supports the view that children are also emotionally injured by parental conflict. The challenge lies in creating an environment in which the risk of a child being exposed to both conflict and alienation is minimised.
So why not increase shared care to 50% in an environment of escalating parental conflict and parental alienation?
Equal shared care could mitigate conflict and the effects of alienation. With increased share care children are spared frequent high stress changeovers (especially mid week dinners) and are able to have uninterrupted, extended time with each parent without the spectre of conflict.
Parents often report that after a few hours, certainly no more than 24 hours, children relax into the loving environment of the parent with whom they are resident. They quickly forget about the other parent untilabout 24 hours before they are due to go back to them.
This seems to be the case unless children are harassed by endless telephone calls from the non-resident parents.
Parents also report that they are more able to engage their children without the constant threat of conflict with the other parent, and the consequent need for defensive parenting.
Alienating parents need time, space and uninterrupted contact with their children in order to alienate them. This makes isolation, keeping children away from the other parent, and disruption, keeping in controlling contact when the children are with the other parent, their key mechanisms.
Equal shared care has the potential to disrupt the alienation process. Children spend more uninterrupted time with the alienated parent and therefore resolve the dissonance between their loving experience of their alienated parent and what they are required to feel about them when they are with the alienating parent.
No wonder alienating parents may bitterly oppose shared care for exactly the opposite reasons! Equal shared care sends them a powerful signal that their actions will have the opposite effect to what they intended.
As always, the devil lies in the detail.