A Child Custody Agreement: Equal Parenting Presumption

Are you making child custody arrangements? This argument for equal parenting after divorce may help you come to an agreement that suits you, your ex husband, and your children.

A presumption of equal parenting with rebuttal means children will continue to reside with each of their parents after a divorce, with both parents retaining physical and legal custody of their children. Parenting time and decision-making responsibilities would be shared as equally as possible.

If you’re certain you’re getting divorced yet, read Are You Confused About Your Marriage and Unsure About Divorce?

An equal parenting presumption is the opposite of what often happens in custody arrangements. Usually, if divorcing parents can’t decide on custody arrangements, the judge makes a decision. A shared presumption of equal parenting is different – it puts both parents on a level playing (parenting) field.

This article is part of a paper I wrote for my social justice class. I’m working on my Master’s of Social Work at UBC in Vancouver. I was fascinated by this topic: should a judge decide who gets custody of the kids after divorce, or should there be an automatic assumption of shared parenting? This is in cases where custody arrangements can’t be decided by the divorcing parents.

This child custody argument is controversial, especially if you’re a parent who has direct experience with custody litigation and battles. Here, I describe what a rebuttable model of equal parenting is. “Rebuttable” simply means that if a parent is abusive or poses a risk to the children, then equal parenting won’t be allowed because it’s not the best interests of the child.

What is Equal Parenting After Divorce?

The rebuttable model of an equal parenting presumption is a child-centered framework that not only puts the best interests of the child at the forefront, but also considers the perspectives of both feminist and fathers’ groups. It protects children in cases of domestic violence and child abuse, and decreases the likelihood of discrimination against children of divorce on the basis of parental status.

Are you a father who feels slighted in the divorce proceedings? Read 10 Breakup Tips for Guys From a Divorced Dad.

The rebuttable presumption of equal parenting in contested child custody cases is defined by children spending equal amounts of time in each parents’ household, and includes a distinctive four-stage process: 1) the legal expectation of a parenting plan before any court hearing; 2) a legal expectation that if parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, then existing parent-child relationships will continue after separation; 3) a rebuttal legal presumption of equal parenting time in cases where both parents were primary caregivers before divorce, and are in dispute over the relative proportion of time each parent spent performing child caregiving functions before divorce; and 4) establish a rebuttable legal presumption against equal parenting in cases where it is established that a child needs protection from a parent.

This is in contested cases of child custody, family violence and child abuse. The well-being of children is at the forefront of this concept, and it is accepted that the children’s well-being should be of primary importance – including the maintenance of healthy, meaningful, loving relationships with each of the parents. If the children are exposed to violence, abuse, or neglect, then measures would need to be put into place to protect the children and ensure their well-being.

The equal parenting presumption as a custody arrangement means that divorcing couples need to have a civil relationship.

A key factor in adjusting to divorce to children is maintaining a meaningful relationship with both parents. Further, a child must be protected from ongoing exposure to high conflict. Stable and consistent routines are important, and so is a measure of financial stability. Proponents of the shared presumption of equal parenting with rebuttal believe that the best way to ensure healthy parent-child relationships, stability, consistency, and protection of a child’s well-being is through an automatic presumption that equal parenting measures will be enacted at the onset of divorce proceedings.

The best interests of the child is the primary consideration of the shared presumption concept, and a pivotal factor in a child’s best interests is the active, consistent, responsible involvement of both parents in his or her life (Kruk, 2011). The current Divorce Act does not put the child’s best interest at the forefront of the divorce; on the contrary, sole custody can in fact create conflict, character assassinations, unnecessary litigation, and even forays into Parental Alienation Syndrome. After a divorce, children are harmed by broken attachments, parental estrangement, parental conflict, instability, and inconsistent routines. This increases the psychological distress children face after divorce substantially (Kelly, 2000).

A sole custody presumption – like the Divorce Act currently posits – inherently infringes upon a child’s rights because it denies the child a full, meaningful relationship with the non-custodial parent. In Who Gets Custody of the Children After the Divorce?, I describe how the current divorce act in BC affects child custody disbutes. These parents do not have satisfactory custodial agreements – and a rebuttable presumption of equal parenting would offer them this opportunity. Further, this a rebuttable shared parenting mandate may encourage social and legal institutions to focus on supporting parents as they work towards determining and responding to the best interests of their children.

There is growing evidence that maintaining parent-child relationships after divorce is extremely important to children, even in high conflict situations. Sole custody arrangements don’t support these relationships. Further, the public in general is growing more dissatisfied over sole custody and support, and is forcing legislatures to reconsider the automatic rendering of sole custody arrangements. Not having access to your child – whether you’re a mother or a father – is a significant cause of post-divorce pain, conflict, grief, and even trauma for both parents and children. It can damage the non-custodial parent’s relationship with his or her child, and cause alienation, financial loss, legal abuse, and even false allegations. I do not believe it is right, healthy, or good for a mother to be automatically awarded sole custody of a child just because she is the mother. This is not in the best interests of the child, which is (or should be) the foundation of the decisions we make on behalf of children.

If a shared presumption of equal parenting is to be successful, legislative supports such as parent education programs, therapeutic family mediation, parenting coordination, and other specialized programs for high conflict families need to be in place. Proponents of this concept of post-divorce custody arrangements do not assume that families will live “happily ever after” simply because both parents are presumed equally responsible for their children.

If you can’t afford to get divorced but you know your marriage is over, read How to Save Money for Divorce When You Can’t Stay Married.


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2 thoughts on “A Child Custody Agreement: Equal Parenting Presumption”

  1. Hi Philippe,

    That’s a great question! I searched for “websites for divorcing parents” and “nonprofit organizations that support children of divorce” and didn’t find anything. I also searched for “how to help children whose parents are divorcing.”

    I found lots of one-off articles, but no nonprofit organizations dedicated to maintaining the relationship between children and both their parents after divorce. I tweeted a request for websites or organizations that help divorcing parents have good relationships with their children and each other. If someone sends me a link, I’ll post it here.

    The Child Study Center has a good article, called How Parents Can Enhance Their Child’s Adjustment During and After Parental Divorce by Rex Forehand, Ph.D. and Nick Long, Ph.D. Here’s a little bit of their advice (the link to the full article is below).

    Develop a parenting plan…The way to parent most effectively is to have a plan! The purpose of a parenting plan is to encourage creative, individualized, and clear arrangements, as well as to facilitate cooperative parenting. Having a plan can make it easier for you and your ex-spouse to work together as parents and reduce the amount of conflict between you.

    Joan McWilliams, an attorney and mediator in Colorado, points out that a parenting plan contains at least three sections:

    Decision Making. How will you make decisions about health care, education, and religion for your child?

    Visitation. How will your child spend time with each parent?

    Dispute Resolution. What happens if you and your ex-spouse do not agree?

    Following are some recommendations for developing a parenting plan:

    Develop a plan with your ex-spouse as soon as possible. A professional mediator can often help the two of you develop a plan if you are having a hard time on your own.

    Emphasize with your ex-spouse that the goal of a parenting plan is to clarify parenting issues, avoid conflict, and help your child. The earlier in the divorce process this can be accomplished, the less conflict there will be and the better your child will adjust.

    Set a time with your ex-spouse to reevaluate the parenting plan as it will need to be modified at times.

    The best interest of your child should always be your priority during and after divorce.

    I hope this helps, and will share more information about kids, divorcing parents, and good information if I find it.

    In peace and passion,

  2. hello,
    I am looking for a non-profit organization whose goal is to encourage the maintenance of the relationship between children and their both parents after parental separation even if there is a Parental conflict.
    can you send me a link to a website or a facebook pages on this topic?
    I would like to find a non profit organization leaded by men and women with an objective focused on the child’s best interest.
    best regards