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Entries in ICSP (4)


Second International Shared Parenting Conference in Bonn

The second International Conference on Shared Parenting will take place on 9-11 December 2015 in Bonn, Germany.  FNF Scotland will attend the event and tell the international audience how Scotland's Year of the Dad will include promotion of shared parenting.

Experts from science, family professions and civil society will gather from across the world at the “Gustav-Stresemann-Institut (GSI)” in Bonn to present their research and discuss best practices for legislative and psycho-social implementation of shared parenting as a viable and beneficial solution for children whose parents are living apart.

The event will be jointly chaired by the President of the International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP), Prof. Edward Kruk, MSW, PhD, University of British Columbia, Canada, and the Chair of the ICSP Scientific Committee, Prof. Dr. Hildegund Sünderhauf, Lutheran University Nuremberg, Germany.

The International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP) is an international association with individual members from the sectors science, family professions and civil society. The purpose of the association is  the dissemination and advancement of scientific knowledge on the needs and rights (“best interests”) of children whose parents are living apart, and to formulate evidence-based recommendations about the legal, judicial and practical implementation of shared parenting.


Sweden leads the way in shared parenting

Percentage of children with separated parents in shared care

As the above graph shows, Sweden currently leads the way in shared care. As it is also a country that systematically collects data on the public health of the whole population, it is becoming possible to assess how children and young people are affected by shared parenting.

Dr Malin Bergstrom from the Swedish Centre for Health Equity Studies (CHESS) presented results from a study on the mental health and life quality of children in a shared parenting arrangement.

She explained that shared parenting levels are so high in Sweden because fathers are more involved from birth - she reported hearing a father say "we gave birth" when talking to the midwife. Shared parenting has grown from 18% to 38% between 1984 and 2011, helped by a change in family law in 1998, but the law alone is not sufficient - public opinions and attitudes have changed to support it.

In a whole population study of 11-15 year old children, children in shared parenting showed lower levels of truanting (19%) than those in sole care of mothers (22%) or fathers (28%) and only slightly above children living with both parents (18%). Many other indicators of mental health and well-being show similar results.  

These Swedish findings are comparable to the recent Growing Up in Scotland study, in which seven-year old children not in regular contact with their father were more than twice as those who have regular contact with their father to show behavioural and emotional difficulties (36% vs 15%, figure 3.2 on page 18).


Law grants custody rights to Swiss fathers

Divorced fathers in Switzerland are now entitled to joint legal custody of their children. Previously, mothers were usually awarded sole custody.
The law, which took effect at the start of July 2014, also allows fathers to apply for custody retroactively if the divorce or separation had taken place within the past five years.
The change in the law means that both parents will have an equal say when it comes to making decisions about the children. However, it does not mean that both parents will share physical custody of their children. The Swiss Parliament had approved a government proposal in June last year, but implementation of the reform was delayed by several months amid concerns by the cantons over an expected flood of requests.
While these new laws represent considerable progress, married and unmarried parents are still teated diffferently and the interests of grandparents, foster parents and other stakeholders are still ignored.
In her speech at the ICSP conference, Swiss family lawyer Anne Reiser suggested that post separation negotiations should be not be conducted like a chess game, in which the outcome is a death or loss for one side.  The strategy game Go provides a more useful approach, in which players compete to get the biggest territory but also make sure that the other party can also live.

The family judge who changed his approach

In one of the keynote speeches at the ICSP conference, retired German family judge Jürgen Rudolph described how he developed a radically different approach to family cases.

This came about in response to the frustration of handling family disputes in court and he freely confessed that, before this revelation "I created a lot of havoc as a family judge and hid behind the experts."

This approach to parental conflict resolution is known as the Cochem system, named for the court district in which it was developed. Judge Rudolph brought together a working group of magistrates, court officials, mediators and lawyers to work out a way of committing all parties to resolve disputes without conflict.

While some lawyers were initially reluctant to change their approach and stop putting their client's interests uppermost, the group eventually developed a code of practice with the following main provisions: 

- The lawyer shall guide his technical-legal advice and oral and written arguments in such a way that parents are encouraged to restrict their differences of opinion and are supported to do this.
- The lawyer shall prioritise the principle that the judicial process of parental separation is not a fight where there is a winner and a loser but, rather, a search for fair solutions. 
 - Wherever possible, the lawyer shall direct the parents to provide truthful and honest information which drives frank discussion. 
- The lawyer shall use one language directed towards and for agreement, taking care to exercise self-control and seeking to express respect for the other party's point of view. 
- The lawyer shall be especially attentive to his choice of words in his written pieces in order to ensure this. 

The guidance for judges that was developed specified that they should find out about the resources of the parents, rather than their shortcomings, and that early intervention in contact disputes is essential.  The Cochem model is based on orderly and interdisciplinary co-operation between the various professionals working for the resolution of parental conflicts. Over 90% of cases can achieve consensual and lasting solutions using this approach.
The Cochem separation/divorce working group has now evolved into the Institute for Interdisciplinary Training  
and the ideas are being studied with interest across the world.