January 4, 2014 by Jane Koda, Member, National Parents Organization of Maryland
Testimony delivered to the Maryland Commission to consider making shared custody Maryland law:
My name is Jane Koda. I am a member of the National Parents Organization. I am also the mother and grandmother of children of divorce where the default decision was, and still is, to award full legal and physical custody to one parent in cases where mother and father have difficulty agreeing on terms.
Twelve years ago, my son and his wife divorced. His wife was angry and the settlement ending up in a custody battle that left my son financially ruined and marginalized as a father. He became a part time Dad, seeing his children every other weekend and every other Wednesday for dinner, until 7:00 PM.
The court order stated that holidays were supposed to alternate; the children were to be picked up by their father after school, and the children’s mother was to supply all the children’s clothes with the child support money. That is not what happened. Our son has never had his children on Thanksgiving, on Christmas, or on Easter. He has never seen his son on his birthday. The children’s mother insisted on picking up the children at school so she could go to her home with the school materials. She claimed my son might steal the children’s backpacks, and he might see their school work. From the beginning, after the custody decision, the children came to their Dad in clothes he had bought for them. My son had to buy boots, rain jackets, winter jackets and everything else so they could have enough clothes to wear when visiting. My son’s ex-wife would not let him call the children to talk to them. She made visiting their schools almost impossible because she worked in the school and influenced the minds of the staff against my son and our family. The few times we did visit, we felt unwelcome. In one instance, on an open house visiting day at school, I was asked by the children’s mother to leave the school because “it was not in the best interests of the children for me to be there.”
For twelve years, my son has paid a third of his salary in child support. He has seen his children the equivalent of five days out of thirty each month. He has had no say in medical decisions, educational decisions, or general discipline in the raising of his children. He has not been informed of school activities, sports activities, or any other milestones in the lives of his children. When he was able to find out about event and attend them, the children would not to go talk to him because the children feared upsetting their mother if they did.
All of this is the result of a legal system that favors decisions that are not equitable or fair to children, to parents or to extended families. It is understandable that there are some cases where a shared parenting system would not work but in the overall scheme of things, it is what would be the best for the children. Shared parenting should be the default decision, the one that is always the first to be expected.
Giving sole custody of children of divorce to one parent only, gives that parent carte blanche to keep the other parent out of the lives of the children. The visitation parent is valued only for the money paid in child support. Sole custody empowers the custodial parent with a legal right to almost eliminate the influence of the visitation parent over his or her children.
Twelve years ago, if the courts had decreed that my son and his wife must work out shared parenting, I am sure my grandchildren would have had a very different, more well rounded childhood. They would not be frequently saying, “It is not fair that we don’t see you as much as we do Mom.” They would have preferred to have both parents involved in all their activities. They would not have been afraid to do things where both Mom and Dad were present.
When children of divorce have two loving parents, why should one parent have so much more influence than the other, over the upbringing of their children. Shared parenting should be the norm where each parent has equal time and equal say in raising the children. When you look at our own family, with my son having his children 5 days every month, his relationship as a father to his children has been completely marginalized to the point that the children have taken on many of the less than optimum attributes from their mother and her family. My son has not been able to have enough time to shape the thoughts of the children in better directions. For example: his children are afraid of insects, afraid that burglars will come into the house, unwilling to express how they feel for fear of being put down or creating a scene, afraid to sleep alone. Had my son had shared parenting rights, he would have been more successful in softening this influence which has poorly affected the personalities of his children.
The winners in a custody case during divorce should be the children. By shifting the basic ground rules to shared parenting, the legal system would automatically defuse adversarial situations where one parent would use the custodial situation as a means of revenge for the break up of the marriage. The courts then would truly be looking out for the best interests of the children of divorced parents. Using the standard schedule of visitation for the non-custodial parent of every other week end and every other Wednesday, perpetuates the marginalization of the visitation parent.
Shared parenting would have presented a totally different scene, had it been the law of Maryland twelve years ago. Fighting for custody would not have been considered by either parent. When presented with the fact that the time and decisions must be shared, all that needed to be done would be to establish the schedule and decide whom would be in charge of which decision or which decisions could be done jointly. Whatever anger was involved in the divorce would be diffused because no one could use the threat of the loss of custody to “get back at” the other spouse.
It is important to consider the issue of abuse that many groups use against shared parenting, by considering what percentage of custody cases involve proven abuse. What percentage of non-abuse cases are settled by giving one parent, usually the mother, sole custody? Why is our legal system encouraging the marginalization of fathers when all experts agree that a child needs the loving care and influence of both parents to grow up to be well rounded, contented and productive adult. Please look at the scientific research by Linda Nielsen and Dr.Edward Kruk for the facts regarding the needs of children for both parents in their lives. Please do not let what happened to our family and our grandchildren continue to happen to other children in the future.
Thank you for your attention.
Shared Parenting Facts & Fiction
Research by Dr. Linda Nielsen
Professor of Education
Wake Forest University
Most children are satisfied with the amount of time they spend (or spent) with their fathers after their parents’ divorce.
As long as the mother has enough money, children don’t pay a price for having too little or no contact with their father.
Most divorced or never married parents are too hostile to share parenting or to benefit from programs on co-parenting.
Shared parenting is harmful for infants or young children because they should not be separated overnight from their mother.
When parents share parenting, children are worse off financially because their dad pays much less child support.
Children benefit more from living with their mothers because mothers have more impact on their well being than father do.
Most divorced fathers are not interested in having their children live with them more or spending more time together.
Shared residential custody fails for most families, thus creating unnecessary instability for children.
The general public is opposed to shared residential custody – a sentiment that is accurately reflected in our custody laws.
The vast majority of kids want – or wanted - more time living with their dads after their parents divorced.1-7
Children who live with both parents at least 30% of the time are equal or better on measures of psychological, academic, behavioral and social well being.8-19
Preschoolers shouldn’t be separated from either parent for more than a few days & can spend nights in both homes.20-21
Dads who share parenting are more likely to pay child support & spend more for things such as college.22, 23
Dads contributes as much to children’s well being as moms do, even if their styles of parenting differ.24, 14
Most divorced dads want more time living together with their children.25-29
Children can benefit from shared residential custody even when their parents have ongoing verbal conflicts & are not on particularly friendly terms.9,10,12,14,20
Shared residential custody has been stable & successful for most parents.10,16,30
In recent public opinion polls men & women are overwhelming in favor of shared residential custody.31, 32
Almost half of the children in the U.S. are deprived of the lifelong benefits of two parents who share the parenting throughout the first 18 years of their children’s lives. Who are children living with?
55% mother & father - 4% unmarried
21% single mother - half divorced & half never married
14% mom & stepdad
5% neither parent
2% mom & her boyfriend
2% single dad
1% dad & stepmom
.5% dad & his girlfriend
1Nielsen, L. Review of shared parenting research. In press
2Ahrons, C. We’re Still Family: What grownup children say about divorce, 2004.
3Fabricus W. Listening to children of divorce. Family Relations, 2003.
4Emery, R. The truth about children & divorce. 2004.
5Finley & Schwartz Father involvement & young adult outcomes. Family Court Review, 2007
6Harvey & Fine Children of Divorce: Stories of Loss and Growth. 2004.
7Amato & Dorius, Fathers, children & divorce in Lamb’s Father’s role in child development, 2010
8A quilino, W. Noncustodial father child relationships. Marriage & Family, 2010.
9Breivik & Olweus, Adolescents’ adjustment in four family structures. Divorce & Remarriage, 2006.
10Buchanan & Maccoby, Adolescents after divorce, 1996
11Fabricius et al. Parenting time & children’s outcomes in Lamb’s book, 2010.
12Juby et al. Sharing roles, sharing custody. Marriage & Family, 2005.
13Scott, Booth & King Post divorce father-adolescent closeness. Journal of Marriage and Family, 2007.
14Nielsen, L. Fathers & Daughters: Contemporary Research & Theory, Routledge, 2012 (in press)
15Lee, M. Childrens’ adjustment in dual & sole residence. Family Issues, 2002.
16Melli & Brown, Exploring the shared time family. Law, policy & family, 2008
17Prazen et al. Joint physical custody & friendships. Sociological Inquiry, 2011.
18Smyth, B. Five year summary of shared care in Australia. Family Studies, 2009.
19Spruijt & Duindam, Joint physical custody & children’s well being. Divorce & Remarriage, 2010
20Pruett et al. Collaborative divorce project. Family Court Review, 2005.
21Warshak, R. Overnight contact between parents & young children. Family Court Review, 2000.
22Fabricus & Braver. Divorced parents financial support of college expenses, Family Court Review, 2003
23Braver, S. Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths, 1998
24Lamb, M. The Father’s role in child development, 2010.
25Bokker, Farley & Denny. Well being among recently divorced fathers. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 2005
26Fagan & Hawkins. Educational Interventions with Fathers, 2003.
27Hallman & Deinhart. Fathers’ experiences after divorce. Fathering, 2007.
28Stone, G. Divorced fathers well being. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 2007.
29Frieman, R. Understanding noncustodial parents. Divorce & Remarriage, 2007.
30George, T. Residential time reports. Washington State Courts, 2008.
31Braver, S. Lay judgments on custody. Psychology, public policy & law. 2011.
32Fatherhood Coalition, Shared parenting election results, 2004.
Co-Parenting After Divorce, Edward Kruk, Ph.D
Although the term, "shared parenting" is usually used to describe arrangements where parents share child care responsibilities following divorce as much as possible, the notion of "equal parenting" refers to parenting arrangements after divorce where parents seek to fairly and equally divide their post-divorce responsibilities toward their children. Although shared parenting provides a number of benefits to children, it is equal parenting that is the optimal arrangement for most children of divorce. This includes children caught in the middle of high parental conflict. Recent research has shown that conflict is reduced in equal parenting households, from the perspective of both children (Fabricius, 2011) and parents (Bauserman, 2012), and in cases where inter-parental conflict is not reduced, equal parenting seems to ameliorate most of the negative effects of such conflict on children (Fabricius, 2011).
Child development experts have written that psychologically, the quality of attachment relationships is a major factor associated with the well-being of very young children. Thus some believe that the quality of parent-child relationships counts for much more than merely quantity of time that children spend with each parent after divorce. But children form close bonds with those who care for them, in their first year of life and beyond. This suggests that quantity of contact is at least as important as quality.
I would emphasize that quality of relationships is largely dependent on having a sufficient quantity of time to develop and nurture those primary relationships. Equal parental responsibility provides a context and climate for the continuation or development of high quality parent child relationships, allowing both parents to remain authoritative, responsible, involved, attached, emotionally available, supportive, and focused on children’s day-to-day lives. Attachment bonds are formed through mutual participation in daily routines, including bedtime and waking rituals, transitions to and from school, and extracurricular and recreational activities. There is a direct correlation between quantity of time and quality of parent-child relationships, as high quality relationships between parents and children are not possible without sufficient, routine time to develop and sustain a quality relationship. And children’s adjustment is furthered by primary relationships with both mothers and fathers (Fabricius et al, 2011). For children, primary attachment bonds are not possible within the constraints of “access” or "visitation."
The idea that children form primary bonds with only one primary parent, espoused by some child psychologists, is reflected in comments such as, “children have one primary attachment figure, the person they prefer to offer them comfort in times of anxiety or pain.” Those who promote such a view cut off the possibility that children develop multiple primary attachments, meaning that they are secure in turning to more than one person (usually equally to the mother and father) to offer them comfort in times of anxiety or pain, and also to share times of joy. Clearly, when both parents are involved, attached and influential in children’s growth and development, children form primary attachment bonds with both parents.
Quality of parent-child attachments is also largely dependent on the well-being of parents. Parent well-being is furthered with equal or shared parenting, as neither parent is threatened with the loss of his or her children (Bauserman, 2012). The highest rate of depression among adults is among parents who have a dependent child but are unable to maintain a meaningful relationship with that child.
I am persuaded, by the weight of the scientific evidence, that equal parenting is a viable option to the present destructive adversarial "winner-take-all" “primary parent”divorce system, for both young and older children, and for those in high conflict as well as cooperative households. Bauserman's (2012) meta-analysis of 50 studies shows that parental conflict goes down with joint custody. He found that in almost all areas of comparison, joint custody was associated with better parental adjustment rates.
Quality of relationships with children are compromised not only in cases where a parent feels disenfranchised as a non-residential parent, but also in situations in which a parent is overwhelmed by sole custodial and caregiving responsibility for his or her children. The constraints of traditional “access” relationships are well documented; closeness, warmth, and mutual understanding are elusive when parenting within the constraints of thin slices of time. Meaningful relationships are developed and sustained through emotional connectedness, and this is made possible through the emotional stability and security of meaningful (fair and equal) parenting time. At the same time, quality of parent-child relationships is enhanced when parents do not feel burdened or overwhelmed by the demands of sole parental responsibility; studies have consistently reported that joint custody parents report significantly less burden and stress in their lives than sole custody/primary residence parents, as sole responsibility for day-to-day attention to the child’s needs is not placed on either the mother or the father, resulting in better quality parent-child relationships, although it comes as no surprise that the highest and lowest levels of parental satisfaction with parenting arrangements after divorce are found in sole custody / primary residence families: custodial or primary residential parents report the highest levels of satisfaction with parenting after divorce arrangements while non-custodial/non-residential parents report the lowest. Between these extremes lies equal parenting, where both mothers and fathers report satisfaction. The marked imbalance in parental satisfaction levels between primary residential and equal parenting arrangements does not bode well for the exercise of parental rights and responsibilities after divorce, as one parent remains at a significant disadvantage in regard to quality of life and well-being. Parental quality of life is an important and significant determinant of the quality of parent-child relationships; optimally, both parents’ interests vis-à-vis their children should be satisfied.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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