Presumption of Equal Parenting Time

Is a Presumption of Equal Parenting Time in Arizona Good for Children?

Renowned psychologist, Dr. Phillip Stahl, spoke at the 2015 American Bar Association Spring Family Law Conference on the subject of whether a presumption of equal parenting time makes sense. The title of the program was “Revisiting Shared Parental Access – Is a Presumption of Equal Parenting Time the Appropriate Template for Custody Determination?”.

Dr. Stahl began by pointing out that family law attorneys and judges have historically focused on the best interests of the children. He characterized the move in some states to a presumption of shared parenting time as a change in a focus from the best interests of the children to, instead, a focus on parental rights. He urged caution in making such a large shift in focus when these decisions have “an impact on children for years and years.”

Dr. Stahl indicated the transition to a presumption of equal parenting time in some states was, in part, to benefit children by potentially decreasing parental conflict. The idea is that parents are less likely to have a contentious relationship if they share equal parenting time. However, there is no psychological research supporting the supposition that shared parenting time reduces conflict between contentious parents. Dr. Stahl’s observations led him to conclude that shared parenting time does not diminish parental conflict.

Dr. Stahl pointed out that not all parents are competent or even equally qualified to provide for a child’s physical, emotional, or other needs. Parents will likely have different parental temperaments, including nurturing, authoritative, and permissive. While sharing that research indicates an authoritative parenting style is the best parental attitude for children, he was quick to distinguish an authoritative temperament from a dictatorial style, which is unhealthy for children.

Dr. Stahl then turned his focus to point out all children are different. For example, some children may be very adaptable to change while other children may not. Children that do not cope well with change may not adjust well to a shared parenting schedule. He also pointed out that very young children should not be subject to a shared parenting time arrangement.

He emphasized that defaulting to a presumption of shared parenting time oversimplifies the complex task of determining what parenting time arrangements are in the best interest of a child. He indicated such an oversimplification risks children being placed in an arrangement that may cause harm to them.

Instead, our focus should be on creating frequent and continuing contact with “the right schedule” that works well for the children. Dr. Stahl indicated research shows that a non-custodial parent who receives approximately 33% of the available parenting time, which parenting time is “well distributed,” works well for children.

Dr. Stahl pointed out that we need to focus on the differences in parenting styles and needs of a child. He warns that a presumption of shared parenting time ignores these important dynamics.


Presumption of Equal Parenting Time in Arizona | When It May Not Work

Dr. Stahl discussed certain specific situations wherein shared parenting would not be in a child’s best interest, including the following:

  • When there has been a history of domestic violence
  • When one spouse has exerted Coercive Control Violence over the other parent
  • When there is high conflict between the parents that is driven by personality disturbances
  • When it is logistically not feasible, such as when the parents live far from each other
  • When one of the parents has been assessed as having poor parenting skills
  • When a parent has substantial mental health issues
  • When a parent has significant substance abuse problems
  • When one parent has shown a pattern of Restrictive Gatekeeping

Lastly, Dr. Stahl pointed out that the term “parental alienation” is no longer being used in the psychological community, which name has been replaced with the label “Restrictive Gatekeeper.” I would like to hear any comments you have regarding Dr. Stahl’s position on these issues and how they may affect children and their relationship with their parents.