What is shared parenting, and how does it affect the children in your ministry?


DC4K_Shared Parenting

Riley has just started attending your church. She seems to be a happy kid. She talks freely about her mom and dad and even mentions them in the same sentence at times, as in, “My mom and dad both like that new restaurant.” So you are surprised when one day Riley says something about her dad’s house. You go to your files and pull up Riley’s information. You remembered glancing over it when she came the first time. Both parents lived on the same street, but wait … now you see they have different house numbers. Then you see mom has written the words “shared parenting.”

What is shared parenting?

Riley’s parents are divorced, but they are still parenting together. They are literally sharing custody of their child. Shared custody is when both parents work together to make decisions regarding raising their child. Each parent remains in the child’s life, having equal or near equal parenting time with the child. The child lives in both mom’s home and dad’s home. Sometimes this form of living in both homes is referred to as “dual residence.”

Shared parenting is like joint custody, but in shared parenting both parents appear to be more agreeable in working together for the welfare of their child. In joint custody usually a court orders the custody arrangement, and not everyone is always happy and agreeable to the situation. Some courts mandate mediation when shared parenting is awarded. This helps ensure that both parties understand all the issues in shared parenting.

About twenty states right now are trying to pass shared parenting legislation. Shared parenting has come about because more men are seeking the right to help raise their children.

Experts say when it comes to the child, the divorced couple can learn to get along when the child is living with both parents. Evidently shared custody helps each parent feel connected in a parent-child relationship so much so that they both take into consideration the needs of the child and the long-term advantages.

The pros of shared parenting

The proponents of shared parenting and new research are showing that children with divorced parents actually fare better when the parents share parenting. Here are some of the pluses of this type of custody:

  •  The child gets to spend time equally with both parents.
  •  The child actually enjoys the time with each parent because he isn’t worrying about divided loyalties. 
  • The child doesn’t feel like he is being forced to forfeit the relationship with one of the parents.
  • The child gets an opportunity to know the father (or mother in some situations) on a deeper level and deepens the bonds of the relationship when living with that parent.
  • The child doesn’t feel like a visitor in either home.
  • There appears to be less bitter arguing between the adults regarding custody when the court mandates shared parenting.
  • Shared parenting helps to minimize child support issues, because the parent who would pay child support now has to contribute to the child’s needs when the child is living in that home.  This cuts back on court costs and having to force the non-involved parent to make child support payments.
  • Shared parenting forces parents to make decisions together regarding education, medical issues, etc.
  • Ideally neither parent undermines the other parent’s role in the child’s life.
  • Children do not feel caught in the middle between the parents.

When shared parenting doesn’t work

  • Shared parenting will not work when one parent refuses to cooperate with the other parent.
  • It won’t work if parents live in different cities or areas. Both parents must live in the same school district, or one parent must be willing to transport the child to and from school on that parent’s custody days.
  • This type of custody will not work when one parent has a radically different lifestyle from the other parent.
  • Not every child is going to be able to accommodate moving back and forth between two homes. Even though the schedule may be consistent, some children just can’t handle living in two places on a permanent basis.

How it affects children’s worship

In all of the research I’ve read so far, none of it details how shared parenting affects the child’s worship. I have to think, though, that if the parents can agree in other areas of a child’s life, then attending church and worshipping more than likely will also be considered.

The research is showing that in shared parenting each parent is more amicable toward the other. The parents make the situation not all about themselves but more about the best interests of the child. If the parents are truly involved in shared parenting, then one would hope that includes the child’s faith interests also.

In shared parenting, gone are the days when the weekend dad won’t return the child in time to go to church with mom. Dad now has time during the week with the child. Gone are the days when dad was a Disneyland dad who did all the fun stuff with the kid while mom had to be the one to discipline the child and see to his spiritual and moral values. In shared parenting, both parents are involved in the child’s spiritual life and teaching moral values to their child.

What you can do

More than likely only one parent will attend your church, but make a point to get to know and include the other parent in church activities. Here are a few ways you might do that:

  • Invite both of them to attend church events where the child will play a role or be involved. Make sure there are people assigned to welcome the other parent to the event.
  • Send both parents notices about Vacation Bible School and church camps. Make sure both parents are aware of any registration fees or additional costs.
  • When a child makes a profession of faith, invite both parents to whatever process your church has regarding the procedure. Invite the other parent to the baptism and celebration.
  • Offer to pray with the other parent regarding the child.

While these types of things might seem awkward to you as a church leader or pastor, keep in mind, this is the child’s life. The child will expect both parents to be involved in his church life just as they are involved in all other areas of life.

You likely are going to be hearing more about shared parenting in the coming months. I didn’t write this to debate shared parenting, but I think as children’s and church leaders we should be aware of all the issues affecting children in our world today. Since a number of states are considering moving to shared parenting as the preferred custody arrangement, this particular arrangement is going to be affecting more and more children in the future.

If you want to know more about shared parenting from a legal standpoint, check out this blog post by Shawn Garrison. It’s helpful!



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