With the Bristol Palin/Levi Johnston child custody agreement freshly in the news, child advocates and fathers' rights groups have taken the opportunity to discuss the impact of shared parenting arrangements on children. A recent article from eMaxHealth, an independent health news organization, discussed some of the science about the topic.
Palin and Johnston's child custody agreement specifies that Bristol Palin will have primary physical custody, while Johnston will have twice-weekly visitation with their son Tripp. The pair will share joint legal custody. Fathers' rights groups have praised Palin for proactively seeking an arrangement that will keep her former fiancée deeply involved in their son's life despite the end of the couple's relationship.
According to several psychological and sociological studies, that decision will likely have a long-term positive impact on Tripp. Citing these and similar studies, fathers' rights groups have recently initiated a nationwide effort to require courts to start divorce and paternity cases with the assumption that joint custody will be awarded unless there is a specific reason not to award it.
Consistent, Long-Term Contact With Both Parents Is Generally Positive
While every family is different, statistics show that most children benefit from spending time with both parents.
One study published in the Journal of Family Psychology analyzed the results of 33 previous studies of children raised in various shared parenting arrangements. The children who lived with both parents at separate times or who spent a specific amount of time with each parent were better adjusted than those who had less consistent arrangements or who had no relationship with one parent.
In another study in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers found that the amount of time children spent with their fathers also had an impact. The more time overall the children spent with their fathers, the more likely they were to have good relationships with their fathers, whether or not their parents were in conflict with one another.
A study in Law and Human Behavior found that children had fewer adjustment problems when they were raised in joint child custody arrangements.
Very Young Children Do Not Necessarily Suffer From Their Parents' Breakup
"Very little is known about the effects of divorce on children younger than 2 years of age," cautions Robert Hughes, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Ohio State University.
That being said, very young children like Palin and Johnston's son are unlikely to suffer merely because their parents have broken up.
"When the bonds between parent and child are severely disrupted, there may be a problem," Hughes noted in an interview with Parent News. "However, very young children do not necessarily suffer just because a divorce has occurred."
Palin and Johnston's very public relationship and breakup do create an unusual situation, but their decision to work together can serve to remind us that the best interest of the child should be first and foremost in our minds. Setting up a framework for consistent, frequent contact between Levi Johnston and his son is a good start on promoting the child's welfare as well as on protecting the father's rights.
"Impact of Child Custody in Levi Johnston, Bristol Palin Case" (Deborah Mitchell, eMaxHealth, August 14, 2010)