There has been plenty of research in recent years over the benefits of shared parenting in cases of separation and divorce. From grading states individually on their shared parenting laws to analyzing the psychological benefits shared parenting has for children as well as parents. National Parents Organization has spearheaded a lot of this research, polling, and studies. I’m honored to serve as a board member on the National Board of Directors for this organization and aid in their work to raise awareness for the importance of shared parenting. I’m proud of the work this organization has done so far and I look forward to seeing the progress we can make in the future.
Shared Parenting in North Carolina
As I’ve written before, North Carolina isn’t a great state for shared parenting. It’s hard for me to write this because I am a North Carolina native who loves this state and everything it offers from the mountains to the coast. While North Carolina offers many wonderful things, it isn’t a great state for separated or divorced parents. I see this first hand in the custody cases that my law firms have been involved with and the families we have helped. The Tarheel State continuously ranks as a low performing state in terms of child support and shared parenting. This is why I’ve dedicated my career to raising awareness about the importance of joint physical custody (JPC), shared parenting, and co-parenting. I founded AN|R Law in 2011 which focuses on settling family law matters with out-of-court and alternative dispute resolution methods such as collaborative law, mediation, and settlement negotiation. These types of processes prioritize shared parenting and acknowledge the importance of including both parents in a child’s life through a healthy co-parenting relationship.
North Carolina Court Case Affirms Shared Parenting
While the majority of my cases happen out of court, I still follow along with the North Carolina Court System to keep track of other landmark family law cases. These are important to follow as new research elements are often presented which provide additional insight to the trends of the family law field.
One of the cases that got my attention made it to the North Carolina Appeals Court in 2016. Smith v. Smith, 786 S.E.2d 12, was a complex family law case involving a divorced couple from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County area. To quickly summarize a very complicated and multifaceted case, the husband, Craig Smith, and his wife, Vera Smith, separated in 2007 after he discovered that she was having an affair. During the separation, he didn’t support their three daughters’ continued enrollment at Providence Day School, an elite private school in Charlotte. The Smiths officially divorced in September 2009; however, the couple continued court battles over the division of their assets. In 2014, the trial court issued a permanent custody order that gave both parents equal custody of their children. This arrangement was set up on a week-on, week-off basis. Yet, in another decision, the trial court also ordered Craig Smith to pay nearly $100,000 in retroactive child support, $4,000 per month in child support, and reimbursements for school tuition totaling more than $116,000. As a result, Craig Smith appealed and the case went to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
While much of the big news surrounding this case centered on the aspect of private school tuition being included in child support orders and other financial arrangements, what interested me the most was part about equal shared parenting. To support the reasoning for that parenting arrangement, the court heard expert testimony by a well-known shared parenting and children of divorce researcher. Dr. Linda Nielsen is a professor of adolescent and educational psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Her research is focused on shared physical custody for children with separated parents and father-daughter relationships, with a special emphasis on divorced fathers. During this case, she testified as an expert on the outcomes for children of all ages who lives with both parents 35-50% of the tie after their parents separated, known as joint physical custody (JPC), versus children who lives less time than that with both parents. She was asked specific questions by the attorneys which prompted her to share the results of research from 60 studies examining joint physical custody over the past 40 years. In her findings, which she has researched in depth over the years, she discovered that JPC children have better outcomes.
The State Court of Appeals affirmed that her testimony was relevant to the case. As a result, the judges agreed that the Smiths’ permanent custody order that gave both parents equal custody of their children with the week-on, week-off schedule was appropriate.
A Conversation with Dr. Linda Nielsen
I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Nielsen about this case and her extensive research on shared parenting.
“According to the 60 studies, children of all ages have better outcomes in terms of their mental health, their physical health, stress related diseases, relationships with both parents, and relationships with their extended family,” explained Dr. Nielsen when asked about the benefits of JPC.
She shared with me that it doesn’t matter how parents arrive at their decision to co-parent with joint physical custody. Dr. Nielsen believes that separated or divorced parents and their lawyers, mediators, and/or counselors listen to the science and put their own personal feelings aside.
“I want parents, judges, and lawyers to base their decisions on what the 60 studies have found in the best interests of children – not based on the outcomes of one particular case,” said Dr. Nielsen. “In the Smith case, as in all cases where I served as a science expert witness, the judge listened to my presentation of the 60 studies and decides whether shared or sole physical custody is in the children’s best interest in that particular family.”
As a result of her testimony during Smith v Smith in 2016, she was affirmed by the North Carolina Appeals Court as an expert witness on the topic of shared parenting. In addition to North Carolina, she has also provided expert witness testimony with courts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky. Dr. Nielsen’s earlier research and books on adolescent psychology led her to look deeper into the research on children of divorce and then to explore the research on shared versus sole physical custody.
Dr. Nielsen’s research has been published in various news outlets and journals, including a recent article in the Washington Post Magazine entitled, “Who Gets the Child?”
To learn more about these studies and to access the full text research documents at no cost, feel free to reach out to Dr. Nielsen directly via email (email@example.com). More information on these topics is also available at her website, which you can access by clicking here. She has generously offered to provide these resources to AN|R Law readers who are interested in learning more about her findings.
Moving Forward and Spreading Awareness
As we examine additional benefits of shared parenting, or JPC, it’s important to realize that it has been proven as a better, safer, and healthier arrangement for the wellbeing of a child. This has been brought to light by not only researchers like Dr. Nielsen and nonprofit advocacy groups like National Parents Organization, but also various court systems across the country. Due to the Smith v Smith case, it is now documented in North Carolina Court that judges have affirmed equal shared parenting to provide better outcomes for children compared to sole custody or unequal shared parenting arrangements.
I researched many aspects of this in my book, The Cure for Divorce Culture, which examines the benefits of shared parenting as well as the benefits of out-of-court processes for family law matters. In addition to explaining the importance surrounding shared parenting, I want to raise awareness about alternative dispute resolution methods that keep families out of court. Processes such as collaborative law, mediation, and settlement negotiation can be used for the majority of family law matters, especially in cases for separation and divorce. They are known to prioritize the wellbeing of children through the creation of shared parenting plans. In addition, these methods provide a better way to divorce that doesn’t involve a court room, judges, or lengthy battles. You can learn more about how these processes support shared parenting by reading this blog, which was recently published on my website.
AN|R Law is committed to helping North Carolina families divorce in a healthy manner that protects the wellbeing of their children. If you’d like to connect with me to learn more about what you can do to support shared parenting, you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn with my handle @ANRLaw. You can also check out my book, The Cure for Divorce Culture, and listen to my podcast, “Divorce, Healthy!” which is available on all major listening platforms.
About AN|R Law
You can learn more about working with AN|R Law: A Negotiated Resolution for divorce and other family law matters in North Carolina by reaching out to our office. You can call 252-702-4376 or fill out this online contact form. We have four North Carolina locations in Raleigh, Greenville, Beaufort, and Wilmington to serve you and your family. With virtual options, we can also serve families across the state for those wanting to use collaborative law, mediation, and settlement negotiation for their family law matters.
If you’re interested in inviting me, Ashley-Nicole Russell, to speak at your next event or conference, I’d be honored to talk with you about the opportunity. I’m currently booking in-person and virtual speaking engagements for 2022 and 2023. Please reach out to my team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.