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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

February 24th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
When asked, both children and parents said they prefer equal parenting time in case of divorce.  Those are facts we rarely see in public discourse about child custody, but Dr. Edward Kruk seems intent on making them part of the international struggle for sanity in family courts.

This is the third in a series of posts I’ve done about Dr. Kruk’s article in the January edition of The American Journal of Family Therapy entitled “Arguments for an Equal Parental Responsibility Presumption in Contested Child Custody.”

Parts Four and Five deal with the expressed desires of parents and children regarding custody and parenting time post-divorce.  The results of the various studies Kruk cites are surprising, probably because they contradict the narrative favored by the news media and certain interested parties such as divorce lawyers.

Interestingly, the forgotten person in all the research about child custody has been the child.  Few researchers have thought to simply ask children their preferences or, in some cases, to ask young adults what they would have preferred when they were growing up with divorced parents.

[T]hose (researchers) who have asked children directly about their residential preferences conclude that children strongly favor equal parenting (citations)…  Seventy percent of children of divorce believe that equal amounts of time with each parent is the best living arrangement for children, including 93% of children raised in equal time homes; and children who have equal time arrangements have the best relations with each of their parents after divorce.

Those are telling statistics.  These are not children who are asked hypothetical questions about abstract living arrangements.  They’re children who are living the lives adult judges have assigned them.  And a whopping 93% of those living in equal parenting arrangements say they prefer them.

Now it might be argued that those children are in equal arrangements because their parents get along, so of course they prefer it.  But 70% of all children of divorce, whether their parents get along or not, want the same thing.  They’re astonishing figures and should force the hand of any judge deciding the custodial fates of parents who show the slightest sign of being fit and loving.

And of course the kids and young adults studied are smart to feel the way they do.  That’s because those with the type of remote, inconsistent relationships with their fathers that the usual custody orders foster tend to have greater insecurity about their relationship with their dads and greater anger at both parents than do children in equal custody arrangements.  That in turn fosters “worse behavioral and emotional adjustment, and lower school achievement.”

Parents, it turns out, agree with the kids.  Like them, parents overwhelmingly believe that the best interests of children are served by equal parenting arrangements.  Canada has been surveying its citizens for years on this subject and those polls invariably indicate that 70 – 80% of respondents favor equal parenting post-divorce.  Studies in the Unites States show the same or possibly greater levels of popular support for equal parenting.

And those aren’t just parents who haven’t gone through the hell of divorce and child custody battles in court.

Seventy eight percent of divorced fathers and 86% of non-custodial mothers in these studies identified EPR (Equal Parental Responsibility) as the legal presumption most in keeping with their children’s best interests.

Of course, since most divorced fathers are non-custodial ones, those figures reflect the feelings of parents who “lost” in the winner-take-all contest that is family court.  So it’s no surprise that they should favor EPR.  But interestingly, their opinions coincide closely with those of the population generally, so it’s fair to conclude that those parents are well within the mainstream of public opinion.

As Kruk points out, and as I have countless times, the disconnect between public opinion and legislative and judicial practice is astounding.

On the matter of child custody, there is thus a marked disconnection between public opinion and the opinion of legal professionals (citations), with changing public opinion reflecting an ongoing cultural evolution of parenting values and norms.

Stated another way, people generally are way ahead of our “betters” in the legal, judicial and policy-making establishments.  Those elites, it would seem, think they know what’s in our interests better than we do.

The bottom line?  When it comes to equal parenting post-divorce, the kids want it, the parents want it and it’s objectively good for all concerned, particularly the children.  And yet the fight for that most humble of desires – to be with and help raise your own child – is everywhere denied to fathers.

“It’s a strange, strange world we live in…”

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