B & B & Anor 2007 FMCAfam 246

Two women had lived together for 5 years and disputed the time two children should spend after they separated.  One male had donated sperm for both children, aged 6 years and 19 months at the time of the hearing.  While they were together the two women had agreed by consent to make joint decisions about the daily care of the children.

The judge quoted research by P Amato and J Gilbreth, “Non-resident Fathers and Children’s Well-being: a Meta-analysis”, (1999) 61 J Marriage & Fam 557. In a meta-analysis of 63 prior studies on parent-child visitation, Amato and Gilbreth confirmed that contact level or frequency of contact in itself does not appear to be associated with better outcomes for children. However, emotional closeness, and in particular, authoritative parenting, is highly beneficial to children. Authoritative parenting included helping with homework, talking about problems, providing emotional support to children, praising children’s accomplishments, and disciplining children for misbehaviour. The researchers concluded that “how often fathers see children is less important than what fathers do when they are with their children” (at 569).  D Baumrind, ‘Authoritarian v Authoritative Control’ (1968) 3 Adolescence 255 refers to authoritative parenting that is neither authoritarian nor permissive.

The judge noted that developmental stages are important and that what is a meaningful relationship to a baby, toddler, school-age child and teenager may, indeed probably will, differ in each stage of development.  The concept of meaningful relationship needs to take into account not only the capacity, developmentally and otherwise, of a child to receive the benefits of meaningful relationships and involvement, but also the capacity of a parent to actually provide the same as well.  Accordingly, the concept also takes into account the history and quality of the relationship between parent and child, and the quality of parenting.  Past and present parenting are often the only reliable indicators of future parenting.