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In light of the state's shared parenting bill, National Parents Organization of Michigan Chair Linda Wright discusses new poll results showing Michigan voters overwhelmingly support shared parenting.

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Parents have a much more favorable take on shared parenting than do judges. As of 2017, over 44% of child custody cases agreed to by the parents are for joint custody. By contrast, only 10.5% of cases decided by a judge order joint custody.

Stranger still, the trends are in opposite directions. In 2015, over 16% of court-ordered cases were for joint custody and about 34% of parents agreed to joint custody. That divergence began shortly after Measure 6, the 2014 ballot initiative that sought a presumption of shared parenting for the children of divorce.

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In North Dakota, a child’s chances of spending meaningful time with each parent following divorce have less to do with his parents than what county they divorce in. For example, there’s a whopping 100% difference in joint custody between Grand Forks and Morton counties. Worse, courts are less than one-fourth as likely to order shared parenting as parents are to agree to it. Those and other worrying facts have come to light in a study of court orders in child custody cases conducted by the organization Leading Women for Shared Parenting.

LW4SP asked the Administrative Office of the Court to provide raw data on child custody orders in North Dakota’s eight largest counties from 2011 to the present. That data paints a disturbing portrait of judges’ orders in child custody arrangements that generally fail the all-important test of promoting children’s interests.

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With the important exception of children who need protection from an abusive or negligent parent, "shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children," said Linda Nielsen, a professor of adolescent and educational psychology at Wake Forest University.

It's difficult to believe that, in 2017, this even is a question. But statistics show that mothers still are awarded full physical custody of children in more than 80 percent of court-ordered child custody cases.

One big reason for the inequity is a decadeslong belief by judges and others that conflict between divorcing parents (which is to be expected at this difficult passage) will cause too much stress for children. Those wary of establishing shared parenting argue that it places children in the middle of disagreements, pressures them into loyalty conflicts or forces them to side with one parent against the other.

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As our children head back to school again, it is useful to ask why so many are doing so poorly. It seems we've tried everything to improve standardized test scores among disadvantaged students, with little success.

But perhaps the answer partially lies in the home, not in the school. It turns out that children raised by single parents account for 71 percent of high school dropouts, according to federal statistics, and that children who have shared parenting after their parents separate due to divorce do considerably better.

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It’s difficult to believe that, in 2017, this even is a question. But statistics show that mothers still are awarded full physical custody of children in more than 80 percent of court-ordered child custody cases.

One big reason for the inequity is a decadeslong belief by judges and others that conflict between divorcing parents (which is to be expected at this difficult passage) will cause too much stress for children. Those wary of establishing shared parenting argue that it places­ children in the middle of disagreements, pressures them into loyalty conflicts or forces them to side with one parent against the other.

Their thinking is that it’s better to formally place the children in Mom’s household for stability and let Dad parent one night a week and every other weekend.

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What two factors vastly increase the likelihood of a healthy and happy future for kids after divorce?

Mom – and Dad.

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Children in shared custody arrangements "do considerably better on every measure, from school success, to fewer teen pregnancies and drug use, to having optimism for the future," said Dr. Ned Holstein, a public health practitioner and founder of the National Parents Organization (natioalparentsorganization.org), which aims to reform family court practices.

Holstein noted that in the past year, Missouri and Kentucky have passed "excellent shared parenting legislation," following states including Utah, Arizona and Alaska.

"If you want to hasten the process of healing, or at least tolerance, the worst thing you can do is declare one person a winner and one person a loser," he said.

"You're both winners. You're both going to be parents. That will actually diminish conflict."

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Linda Wright, chairperson of the Michigan chapter of the National Parents Organization, said it is difficult to ascertain who is the better parent based on the best interest factors when “a lot of custody cases” are decided after “10 minutes in front of a judge,” who cannot get an accurate picture of the family dynamics in such a short time.

“The current law is not working,” she said. “… Without there being a standard, it really doesn’t depend on who is the best parent. It depends on what judge you have and what county you’re in.

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Studies and statistics disagree with the court’s antiquated tradition of awarding sole custody a great majority of the time (U.S. Census stats show mothers receive sole custody more than 80 percent of the time). If mothers are better for singularly raising their children, why do federal statistics show that these children account for 63 percent of teen suicides? Why are we not outraged that 71 percent of kids who drop out of high school are from single-mother homes? Why should we not address the fact that 85 percent of those in prison come from fatherless homes? Why would anyone not want to fix this crisis?

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