Sabine Baudoux – a bushel in Brussels

Posted on June 5, 2014 by


Child expert Sabine Baudoux favours joint custody


Sabine Baudoux is a child psychology expert, a family therapist, and is responsible for expertise in Belgium’s courts. In her statement on the types of ‘living arrangements’ (custody) she favours “shared hosting”.  She believes ”co-parenting’ represents an essential element for children aged 0 to 3 years, and she states that despite the separation of a child’s parents (e.g. divorce), the child has the right to maintain emotional ties with both parents.

Sabine Baudoux is a member of the French speaking Association of Experts in Child Abuse. For her and the Association, responsive care is also necessary. She states:

  • “We realise that tensions have increased in divorce matters. We are witnessing very virulent confrontations between parents and children which go less and less well. It is necessary to arrive at an optimal standard, a social norm, with conditions, of course.  For us, the standard is maintaining the right of the  child to fairly maintain relations with both parents.”

Belgium’s “shared parenting” law of 18th July 2006 clearly says that the court must consider ‘as a priority’ the possibility of awarding child living arrangements equally between parents.

A presentation by Mme. Sabine Baudoux, psychologist, responsible for expertise in Belgian courts.

Translated by Robert Whiston


It is the ‘married couple’ that divorces, not the parental couple. Both parents must continue to fulfil its educational responsibilities of each of its children.

For the child, despite the increasing rate of separation of couples in our country [very high in Belgium – RW ], and especially in the cities, the separation of her parents can never be trivialised, it remains suffering that will only fade over time if the parents take a responsible co-parenting.

Eventually, after a period of denial which may be long or short this will lessen over time, even though the child may continue to dream of bringing his parents together once again to rebuild the old family unit and will use that as the rationale. It is these continuing [inner ? – RW], conflicts between the child’s parents which could leave deeper pathologies which are more important scars than the separation itself.

For the good of the child every parent has an obligation to keep intact the image of the other parent despite former spouses’ suffering.  The interest of the child resides in the agreement of their parents as to their parental roles after the couple has separated. Therefore, in general, any agreement between the parties must take precedence over judicial decision if it is not to be contrary to the interests of the child. However, it is here we enter in the realm of the protectionist [emphasis added].

With increasing number of separations of couples, we are witnessing a parallel growth in conflicts over ‘child custody’ in a system where everything is possible.

The implicit rule still remains the capturing of custody for the mother coupled with putting distance in the relationship with the father or even a total break that will settle down as ‘the norm‘ over time.

The consequences of ‘father absence’  in the upbringing of children are well known:

  • Child’s ‘identity’ problem,
  • Child’s impaired ‘socialisation’ – especially in adolescence.

A ‘ice cream Dad’ [a ‘weekend father’] with two weekends a month cannot possibly fulfil his parental duties, nor his child-rearing responsibilities or play a role in purely recreational matters. Even if one argues that it is the quality of the relationship that must take precedence over quantity, there must nevertheless be the time to build this very link

To obtain the sole or lion’s share of shared hosting [shared parenting – RW], i.e. when parents do not agree and a hope exists for conflict in order to deviate from the principle of ‘joint parental authority’, then though it may sometimes cause initial grief, that ploy must be overwhelmed and the claim disqualified.

The child can become a hostage in an adversarial environment where no quarter is given and where parental anxiety is high, because the parents know what fate awaits them should they fail. This anxiety is transmitted to the child. Therefore, many experts point to the poor physical condition and mental health of the child in a society where progress in child medicine, child psychiatry are obvious and which these children no longer enjoy [ re: McIntosh’s false findings, 2014 ? –  RW .]

It appears imperative to reduce these custody disputes which can sometimes have disastrous consequences for the child and to try to mitigate parental related anxiety due to the unpredictability and the arbitrariness of custody decision of the judge who today often decides on the basis of its own ideological mode.

The establishment of a legal standard for sharing accommodation as the preferred model, in the law could have a positive and calming impact, but under certain conditions:-

  1. Absence of parental consent on a hosting system [shared parenting – RW] either directly or after consultation with a third-party (e.g. mediator, therapist etc)
  2. Child under 3 years old
  3. Child over 3 years but under 14
  4. Parents with equivalent educational capacity
  5. When the backdrop/circumstances are favourable, and
  6. Support and implementation of the ‘action plan’


2/. Child under 3 years old

Children under three years, and especially during the first year and a half of their lives need continuity in their attachment relationships, i.e. mothering. That said, even if it is the mother who fulfils this function, there are situations, of course, where the father will be ‘mothering’ the child instead of the mother or should take over when (or where) a mother is incapable. This requires a proper assessment for mental development of a child. Some early experience of ‘alternate accommodation’ is part of emotional continuity and this link (i.e. continuity in attachment with alternate accommodation), seems to work well for children.

Longitudinal studies are lacking enough validity for a general position to be taken. The ‘case by case’ in these situations is likely to continue without adverse recognition for the future, in terms to be reviewed at the age of three years, except always parental consent.

The child may spend his nights in the same place and regularly see the other parent, commonly, day and set times. Set times for bath, meals, bedtime etc must be constant and continuous.

For children under 6 years old sharing holidays (say for a week or two) in any month is acceptable but spending a whole month with only one parent is not advisable.

A child under 18 months should not be separated from its attachment figure for more than a week of holiday. Then, we recommend sharing 15 days / 15 days with each parent until the sixth year and this sharing can continue certainly up to 4 years.


3/. Child over 3 years but under 14

In adolescence (except in special cases), shared parenting can become unsatisfactory for teenagers who develops their own social networks and the need for private space and time increases (sometimes it can become a disorder).

Teenagers become partners of choice made even if it is not they alone who decide. But the reign of the boy-as-king and the all-powerful young person is transitional and can be expected to end, sooner or later.

Note: accommodation cannot be defined once and for all but should be flexible to follow the child’s developmental evolution.


5/. When the backdrop/circumstances are favourable

Favourable circumstances means not just that the environment is conducive but the ‘hardware’, schools, the accommodation, housing space, place and distance of residences (and presumably state benefits, allowances, doctors, dentists etc), all reach a required minimum to function.

Some parents knowingly organise their way of life to make sharing impossible accommodation (or very expensive), after separation. The aim is to remove the other parent from the child’s life and to neutralise their impact/influence on their education and ‘socialising’ roles.

Sometimes this begins with various allegations and complaints of a Parental Alienation process. The evaluation of this trend should be confined to specialists who are experts in this field but the vigilance of the Court and its awareness of the implementation of these types of strategies should lead it to prioritising the parent who protects the image of the other parent and who really tries to reconcile and respects the principle of joint parental authority.

If this parent is unable to implement or continue with alternating accommodation because of the above obstacles, should be given the main accommodation, i.e. full custody.


6/. Support and implementation of the ‘action plan’

The failure of the alternating residence regime comes mainly from the difficulty to operate in a co-parenting way, i.e. to share educational tasks, to communicate in the best interests of the child, etc. Behind the non-co-operation is a secret desire by some parents who hope a failure of the action or parenting plan will result in them being awarded full custody – when they alone will be free of any r restrictions and can make unilateral decisions.

Educating the child by two parents in a complementary way requires a lot of effort; of mutual respect in a context where it is difficult to communicate; where actions by one may sometimes be rebuked a passionate atmosphere because it is difficult to separate the new family unit while still mourning the loss (death) of the former family unit. In these situations where too much confidence and candour abides sometimes in the heat of the moment some things are better left unsaid

Reconciliation signifies accepting that there is neither parent is a winner or a loser, no guilt and no victim, but to agree not to impose ideas deemed best, give up hold only an educational power. Reconciliation means renouncing exclusive control on educational matters It is to agree to jettison old ‘personal baggage’ so that the child benefits and is the winner.

Considering what has been stated above, it is easy to use a third-party to facilitate parental dialogue, the finding of small agreements, the negotiating of a clear framework; the sharing of educational responsibility, the fine tuning of views and visions of education, decision-making, and the judgment of choice for the child in choosing a doctor, recreational activities, and who does what in the new family set-up schedule, etc.       To do this, we must convince the one parent that the other parent can also do it as well; is also competent as a parent, and is a good parent for the child.

NB: Some parents, usually fathers, are better parents after separation than in normal married life where they relied entirely on the other parent. After separation they become aware of their role and are alerted to what they have to lose and in valuing what is at stake, want to save it.

A parent who previously always assumed the child care duties, is probably looking at the situation through yesterday’s jaded eyes and it is hard for them to believe that the other parent has changed. Therefore, the role of the third-party is important.


Note concerning ‘listening’ to the child:

The child must be able to express themselves in their own words and feel thy are heard in benevolent way but…:

  1. It is not the child who decides matters.
  2. The child does not have to choose, it has the right to remain loyal to both parents.
  3. The child’s need for equity and justice should be respected.

Parents don’t have to and should not “triangulate” (i.e. 3 cornered), their disputes by involving the child but through respect for the needs of the child or, where there is distortion or over-reaction brought about by the conflict, through therapeutic mediation, conciliation, family therapy, the law and/or a judge.

There are interests of the child (respect for its needs on the basis of its age) and desire to the child.Applying a decoded interpretation of the “best interests of the child” may have side effects which are bad for the child’s future.

Conferring on to a child the sense of omnipotence and of having power over adults is unsettling and brings situations, sooner or later, which become unmanageable.

The simple hearing of the child testimony, views or opinion, if his words are corrupted can illuminate matters in only a limited way, so matters must be contexturalised and objectified.

The procedure to adopt, if the child’s testimony is challenged at magistrate level, should be to arrange for an evaluation by a professional specialising in the field.

Restricting any possible perverse effects should be high on the agenda (and permanently so), of decision makers when introducing of the idea of a standard, based on the principle of joint parental authority and co-parenting

The strategies implemented by a parent to thwart custody awards (and parenting plans) should be decoded and exposed to avoid any ‘drift’ or slippage.

Calling in experts for evaluating the opportunity to change a parenting plan is well worth while in borderline cases. If a parent fails blatantly (because of drug addiction, alcoholism, psychotic breakdown, repeated suicide attempts, depression proved, etc  etc), the evidence is obvious enough not to need expertise. But to define a framework for personal relationships and / or a new parenting plan change, expertise can prove useful.


In conclusion

Shared parenting helps children, girls and boys, through their latent Oedipal phase (to sexually possess the parent of the opposite sex), and maintain affective links and be educated by both parents preserving conflicts of loyalty.

The use of mediation to support co-parenting [shared parenting] and expertise to advise on accommodation which best suits the interests of the child. Mediation can be used to assess if it is necessary to deviate from the principle of sharing of accommodation and represent tools at the disposal of the parties to triangulate their differences [i.e. using more than one method],  in the interest of the child and can be one recommended to the Court even where the court may have originally issued as different order.

Individual cases would be possible depending on the situation, age and the best interests of the child.




DOC  51.  1673/014  Chamber des Representants de Belgique – 27 January 2006.

Report made on behalf of the Sub-Commission on Family Law by Ms. Valerie Deom .

For a proposed new law favouring the egalitarian accommodation of a child whose parents are separated and regulating enforcement for child accommodation.

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