Common sense tells us that when parents separate it is best to keep both parents fully involved in the children’s lives. And there is now a wealth of social science strongly supporting that conclusion.
What will cause the huge difference in the girls’ lives?
Each girl loves both her parents –and all the parents are good caregivers. The difference is caused, believe it or not, by the few miles between them. Ava lives in Kentucky where divorcing children get to see both parents equally. Suzie lives in Ohio where the law forces parents to fight tooth and nail to “win” custody of her if they are to continue in their full parenting role.
Kentucky’s law for divorcing families has a presumption that both parents have equal decision making (“joint custody”) and parenting time. This arrangement is true shared parenting. Decades of scientific research show this is usually the best arrangement for children in separating families. Kentucky’s law excludes parents who are likely to abuse or neglect a child, of course. But for the vast majority of families, both parents — and even more importantly, the children – can be assured of a full continuing parent/child relationship.
However, Ohio’s law is based on choosing a primary custodian. In other words, one of Suzie’s parents stays a real parent. The other one is pushed to the edges of her life and only gets to see her during “visitation.” Suzie wants to stay close to both of her quality parents but the state of Ohio makes this difficult unless the parents both agree to it from the outset. Ohio then tells the parents to put on their boxing gloves and fight with everything they have. It’s no wonder so many good people go through tough divorces.
Currently, many family courtrooms remain on autopilot, where they continue the cookie cutter order of sole custody to the mother and every other weekend with the dad. In most cases, the goal should not be to determine which parent is the “better” parent. Rather, it should be how to enable these children to keep substantial relationships with both parents.
There is hope. More than 20 states have considered shared parenting legislation in recent years, according to the Wall Street Journal. What’s more, shared parenting is the norm in many areas outside the United States, including Sweden. Plus, research throughout the globe presented at this spring’s International Conference on Shared Parenting was overwhelmingly supportive of the two-parent model.
It’s time for parents to start thinking about what’s in the best interest of their children. It’s time for our family courts to change the norm. It’s time for Michigan’s House and Senate to pass this bill, and time Gov. Rick Snyder signs it. Sole custody of children should be the last resort, not the standard.
Time and time again, fathers lose custody battles because the courts say one parent, most times the mother, is better for the children. Why is losing one parent even a consideration? When children have two fit, willing, and able parents, why not keep both? Just because the parents separate, why are the children forced to lose one of them? It’s 2017, not 1917 — gender roles are a thing of the past. If mothers want to be the primary breadwinners, they can be. If fathers want to be stay-at-home dads — more power to them.
Luckily, Michigan legislators are working on a solution for our state’s children. Before the Legislature paused for summer break, the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee passed HB 4691, which is sponsored by Rep. Jim Runestad. The bill places Michigan in line to follow in the footsteps of states including Kentucky and Missouri, which have recently passed laws supportive of shared parenting — a flexible arrangement where children spend as close to equal time with each parent as possible after divorce or separation.
Effective this month, the state has a new law on temporary child custody orders, which are the starting point for separating families. Kentucky’s House and Senate unanimously approved the changes to Kentucky Statute 403.280 making joint custody and equal parenting time the presumption in temporary child custody hearings during divorce processes. Simply put, custody conversations will begin with the two-parent model.
Parent alienation – characterized by behaviors that intentionally damage the relationship a parent has with a child – is an increasingly common form of abuse. It can affect intact families but is much more common among children affected by separation or divorce. To decrease the rates of parental alienation affecting our children, it is time Virginia updates its laws to support shared parenting.