Shared parenting – a Belgian survey

Posted on December 30, 2012 by

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In the seemingly endless British debate about shared parenting – now in its 20th year – it has always been maintained by opponents to the concept that alternating the residence will be confusing for the children. If true this would make British children both dimmer and more emotionally vulnerable than their Belgian counterparts 40 miles away.

Or could it be that our politicians and academics who supply us with our statistics are completely out of touch with the public sentiment ?

One survey undertaken in Belgium by the family relationships magazine ‘Filiatio‘ would seem to endorse that view (see Table below).

Belge_SP2Respondents to another recent Belgian survey found that 68.5% favoured an egalitarian solution, i.e. of alternating the residence, suitable for children under 6 years of age. Of those 68.5% respondents 45% believed that the egalitarian accommodation (shared or co-parenting) should be adapted from 3 years of age. Less than 20% (18.5%) believed that the egalitarian accommodation (shared residence) should be established for children aged over 6 years of age, and 13% had no opinion.

The question posed to a random sample to elicit this response, ie 68.5% favoured an egalitarian solution, namely alternating the residence/ shared parenting (as listed above) re: children under or over 6 years of age, was as follows:

  • “Regarding accommodation egalitarian (custody, usually a week at one parent’s followed by a week with the other, alternating), at what age children do you think it is possible to implement ?”

See also http://motoristoppression.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/16/Belgians like their shared parenting laws.”  Cross-reference this with, “Dutch, at 70% go ‘shared parenting mad’ (http://robertwhiston.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/39/).

This evolution results from a new Belgian legislative framework – the “Bilocation Act” of Sept. 2006 – in which judges are encouraged to review egalitarian care, residence and housing arrangements of the children with both parents with “priority” (i.e. encourages shared parenting awards), unless it is “manifestly contrary to the interests of the child.”

Survey

According to a survey conducted by AEGIS / Deep Blue, on behalf of the magazine Filiatio (see http://www.filiatio.be/separation-ce-que-les-belges-desirent-pour-leurs-enfants/ ), seven out of ten respondents (69, 5%) favor an egalitarian accommodation of the children after divorce.

To the question:

  • At what age do you think we can seek the advice of a child for the type of accommodation?
  1. 6 – 8 years
  2. 9 – 11 years
  3. 12 – 14 years

Over 80% (82.4%) of the public said that children aged at least 12 – 14 years old should be heard by parents and courts as to their custody (guardianship) wishes.

This fell to 51.9% for children aged 9 – 11 years old and fell further to 32% of respondents where the child was aged 6 – 8. However, this lower figure, 32%, is still far in excess of the levels ‘women’s lobby groups’, politicians and academics are currently prepared to accept, e.g. Sir Alan Beith MP and the troublesome Jenifer McIntosh.

In addition, and very relevant to the protracted British experience, 74.9% of Belgian respondents felt that the time taken to reach a judicial decision should not exceed 3 months for issues related to the accommodation (custody) of children.

Progress toward reform has been persistently crippled by the red herring of either child abuse or claims of domestic violence or both towards presumably the mother with sole custody. In reality these allegations are usually more in the mind for ‘posturing purposes’ than in the actuality. From the thousands of cases said to be reported as ‘a fear’ few if any feature in court proceedings when push comes to shove and accusative mothers are cross-examined.

It is a situation not unique to Britain and in the case of Belgium the question was posed in this way:

  • In case of false accusations by a parent to prevent the establishment of an egalitarian accommodation, do you think that the accusing parent should be punished ?

The Belgian response was that 71% of them believed the falsely accusing parent should be punished; 21% expressed no opinion, and 8% were against punishing such parents.

The options given to respondents of the different types of custody accommodation which they thought were the best varied from:

  1. Accommodation egalitarian (i.e. shared parenting)
  2. 5 days to one parent and  9 days to the other parent
  3. 1 or 2 weekends at one of the parents house who did not normally have care, i.e. the father usually

Belge_SPOn average 69.5% of Belgian respondents considered the shared parenting system as the best among the three proposals, 15.2% were in favor of the phrase “one weekend 2” and 5.2% preferred mode of hosting the “5/9 option (10.1% of respondents were undecided on this issue).

In matters of mediation and preparing for life after divorce 67.7% of Belgian respondents believed, it would e beneficial for parents to attend mediation after separation – a canon which is part Tim Loughton MP Bill in the attempting to reform custody. However, 18% of respondents are against the idea of ​​mandatory mediation with. 14.2% have no opinion.

  • NB. Belgium has a different code of laws which embraces binding conflict resolution which is not directly linked to family courts and separation.

Geographical dimension

A clear difference was observed between the Belgian language communities of the south and the Flemish speakers more usually located in the north. Joint physical care, residence and custody were more popular among the Flemish speakers, at 81.2%, than among French speakers (at 54.5%).

Prof. Yves-Henri Leleu, a specialist in family law at the University of Liège (ULg) analysed the variation and concluded:

  • “The socio-economic factor must play a role . . . . Accommodation in alternating residence arrangements costs is more expensive . . . . .  it takes two homes, two cars, etc. Also the “northern (Flemish) counties” are more emancipated. Finally, there is certainly more family support services made available (crèches, nurseries etc…) on the Flemish side.”

This view was shared by the authors of the survey, Céline Lefevre from the magazine Filiatio, who said:

  • “There is also greater professional support in family law in Flanders. And, conversely, greater resistance on the French side.”

In some ways this is reminiscent of the custody divide before the Children Act 1989. A survey conducted by the Law Commission in 1987 found that joint custody was far more common in the midlands and the south than in the north where sole mother custody we the dominant awards. The Children Act 1989 put paid to that variation and imposed sole mother custody as the default setting for the entire country.

References :

  1. “Twenty wasted years – Joint custody is not new or untested, two decades ago it was common in England” (2008) http://robertwhiston.wordpress.com/2008/02/05/5/
  2. “The Law Commission’s Infamous ‘Supplement to Working Paper No. 96”  (2008) http://robertwhiston.wordpress.com/tag/20-wasted-years/
  3. “Survey – The majority of Belgians (69,5%) favor their shared parenting law” http://equalparenting.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/13/
  4. Filiatio http://www.filiatio.be/category/journal/
  5. “Separation: what the Belgians want for their children”
  6. http://www.filiatio.be/separation-ce-que-les-belges-desirent-pour-leurs-enfants/

 

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