Do Psychologists apply the same Shared Parenting principles to Children of Short-Lived Relationships?

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This is one response from the Expert Interview Series: Dr. Travis Gee. Refer to the table of contents for the whole series of questions posed to Psychologist Dr Travis Gee, on the topic of how Family Reports and the Psychology Industry in Family Law

7. In a context of a short-term relationship between the parents, how should custody of a child be assessed and how should the “best interest of a child” be defined and applied in this specific context? For a child’s well being, isn’t it necessary for a child to be able to build relationship to both his/her parents? 

unmarried-fathersAs a general rule, yes, the child should have relationships and spend time with both parents, irrespective of age.

There are natural exceptions to the rule, substantiated violence and abuse with a likelihood that it will continue, or cases of severe parental alienation, where awarding custody immediately to the targeted parent is one recommended therapeutic approach.

However, as it stands there are two issues with enforcement of orders. On the one hand, many fathers are outraged at the way that mothers can ignore contact orders, with little or no consequence.

On the other hand, there is no enforceability about non-custodial parents spending time with children if they do not wish to. The solution to the former is a simple matter of empowering police to enforce those orders when requested, and heavier consequences for contraventions. The solution to the latter is far more obscure.

Current stereotypes might have us believe that these are fathers, and that they are in the majority, however, data contradict that idea.

The 2009 Family Law evaluation study by the AIFS1 found that only 17% of fathers of children under two, and 13% of fathers of older teens, were not in contact with their children, with the number dropping to 5% between those extremes.

And we cannot forget that these are family law outcomes, where typically the father fights to have access to his children, and would not voluntarily walk away (barring unusual circumstances such as the case of the doubly-conflicted ICL above).

Statistically, the situations where the father wishes to have no contact are more likely to arise in undisputed settings, rather than family law settings. Statistics on these cases are scarce and unreliable, so the scientist-practitioner has little to go on.

A father’s only contact may be via the child support system, which does not typically gather much data about anything other than his income and his ‘early termination’, and that is in situations where he is in fact aware that he has a child.

Unfortunately, it is a fairly unstudied area, however, with rising rates of out-of-wedlock children and mothers increasingly having children to subsequent partners, 2 it is reasonable to expect this number to grow.

This will be especially true if current calls for child support payments to be made by the government irrespective of payment by the paying parent change legislation, particularly where there is no recourse to reimbursement in one of the growing number of cases of paternity fraud.

  1. Kaspiew, R., Gray, M., Weston, R., Moloney, L., Hand, K., Lixia, Q., et al. (2009). Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms. Australian Institute for Family Studies.
  2. Thomson, E., Lappegård , T., Carlson, M., Evans, A. & Gray, E. (2014). Childbearing Across Partnerships in Australia,the United States, Norway, and Sweden. Demography, 51, 485–508.

Valerie Cortes

Online Legal Information Author at Family Law Express
Valerie is a Bachelor of Business Bachelor of Laws student at the University of Technology Sydney, majoring in International Business. Upon graduating, she plans to work in areas of family law and international human rights law, as well as an interest in international business law and commercial law. She volunteers as an interpreter for clients at a refugee case services.
Valerie Cortes
Categories: Family Report, out-of-wedlock children, Parental Responsibilities, Parental Rights, Shared Parenting, Sole Custody, Spends time with, Substantial and Significant Time, Unmarried Fathers
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