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January 10, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Thanks to our good friends at Leading Women for Shared Parenting produced this  persuasive compendium of polls and votes on shared parenting. Put simply, in all but two instances, the vote on shared parenting was a landslide in favor.

The two earliest are Canada’s 2000 Polaris Report and National Parents Organization’s 2004 ballot initiative. In an unprecedented landslide, National Parents Organization's 2004 ballot measure for joint physical custody of children passed by an 86-14% margin. The lopsided margin of victory was greater than that of any elected official in Massachusetts. https://nationalparentsorganization.org/blog/13547-landslide-victory-fo

LW4SP collected some 20 separate polls and votes on shared parenting in the United States, Canada and Western Europe. Of those, seven were polls —three in Canada, one in Massachusetts, one in Belgium, one in the United Kingdom and one in Holland. Two more —one in North Dakota and one in Walsh County, ND —were popular referenda.

The other eleven tabulations consist of votes taken by state legislative bodies in Florida, Minnesota, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia and South Dakota.

Out of all 20, only the statewide ballot initiative in North Dakota and a Senate vote in South Dakota received minority support. The votes in favor of shared parenting in those were 43% and 38% respectively. (Amazingly, the ND ballot initiative was the brainchild of a single fathers’ rights activist, a diesel mechanic named Mitch Sanderson. He also ramrodded the Walsh County initiative that passed by a 66%-34% margin. The Attorney General and the family law bar of the state loudly opposed Sanderson’s initiative, making it a remarkable feat that he got the initiative on the ballot in the first place and that it gained as much support as it did.)

In all 18 other votes/polls, shared parenting won in a landslide.

Consider the Canadian poll conducted by Nanos in 2009. It asked respondents to answer the following question: "Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or oppose federal and provincial legislation to create a presumption of equal parenting in child custody cases?" Overall, a whopping 78% supported a presumption of shared parenting with women’s support (78.3%) slightly stronger than men’s (77.7%).

Not only was presumed equal parenting equally popular among men and women, its support extended across traditional lines of political preference. Some 80.6% of liberals and 77.8% of conservatives supported the presumption.

Perhaps more remarkable than the strength of its support was the weakness of the presumption’s opposition. Only 9.7% opposed equal parenting while 12.3% were unsure. I’d call 78% in favor versus 9.7% opposed a landslide, wouldn’t you?

Moving on to the U.K., as I reported here, a YouGov poll in 2012 found overwhelming support for equal parental rights post-divorce (NPO, 12/26/13). No fewer than 84% of Britons said they supported equal parental rights and 85% said that fathers are “instrumental in bringing up children.”

Back here in the United States, a 2004 non-binding referendum in Massachusetts asked voters to render judgment on this proposition:

"Shall the State Representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation requiring that in all separation and divorce proceedings involving minor children, the court shall uphold the fundamental rights of both parents to the shared physical and legal custody of their children and the children’s right to maximize their time with each parent, so far as is practical, unless one parent is found unfit or the parents agree otherwise, subject to the requirements of existing child support and abuse prevention laws?"

Again, an astonishing 86% of Bay State voters said “yes.” It’s worth looking at the wording of that referendum. Notice that the presumption referred to was to be a “strong” one “so that the court will order” equal access unless unfitness or parental fault is found. In short, the referendum didn’t mince words. It’s almost as if it dared people to vote against it. They didn’t. The referendum won, once again, in a landslide.

In U.S. state legislatures, shared parenting usually did as well or better, again with the exception of the South Dakota Senate. For example, in Arkansas, both the state House and Senate passed a bill that LW4SP describes this way:

Language of the act calls for courts to favor joint legal custody. The Act goes further to define joint legal custody as meaning "approximate and reasonable equal division of time with the child by both parents." The act further states the court may order this arrangement at its discretion, it is not necessary that the parents be in agreement about joint legal custody for it to happen. Additionally the law states that a parent who creates conflict or attempts to disrupt a joint custody arrangement may lose custody to the non-disruptive parent.

The bill passed with almost 85% of the vote in the Senate and over 95% in the House. It is now the law in Arkansas.

In Arizona, almost 90% of legislators (83.6% of the House and 100% of the Senate) voted for a substantial overhaul of custody laws in the state. According to LW4SP, the new law “encourages joint parenting, including requiring the court to adopt a plan that "maximizes" both parents’ time with the child and forbids the court from giving one parent preference based on the parent’s or child’s gender.”

The legislatures of Florida and Minnesota passed shared parenting legislation with 73% and 64% majorities respectively, but in both states the governor vetoed the bills.

And that, of course, brings us to one of the main points I wish to make. First, shared parenting is enormously popular among people of each sex, all political persuasions, all races, creeds, ages, income levels, etc. It enjoys overwhelming support among people from state to state, country to country, continent to continent. (By the way, according to researchers, it’s strongly favored by children as well, both those whose parents are divorced and those who are still together.)

That’s first and most obvious. But what’s also clear is that shared parenting is not the law of the land much of anywhere. Yes, to their everlasting credit, the Arizona and Arkansas have made huge strides in the direction of shared parenting, but they’re pretty much alone. Clearly the popular momentum is in favor of shared parenting and clearly it enjoys vast support.

So why isn’t it the law? The reason is that political elites, like governors Mark Dayton of Minnesota and Rick Scott of Florida continue to resist the will of the people. They’re not the only ones, of course. Whenever a bill is proposed that even marginally improves the prospects of fathers in child custody cases, family lawyers are the first to cry ‘foul!’ They know better than most that their livelihoods depend on conflict between parents and that a presumption of equal parenting all but demolishes the usual source of conflict —the “winner-take-all” system of ordering custody. The family law bar is backed up by the usual hangers-on in family courts who also depend on the current system to make their Lexus payments. I refer to guardians ad litem, court psychologists, social workers, custody evaluators and the like. There’s a whole cadre of people who make substantial money off the fear and loathing with which parents enter the doors of the family courthouse. Unsurprisingly, they’re all against shared parenting.

Then there are the radical feminists who’ll stop at nothing to separate fathers from children. For decades, those radicals have trumpeted their political philosophy that the family is the seat of the oppression of women by men and that it must be destroyed in order for women to be free and safe. The unfortunate problem for those feminist is the fact that reality stubbornly refuses to conform to their brand of sexual politics.

By now it’s no secret that single mothers with minor children are far worse off (as are their children) across an array of categories (financial, emotional, criminal, use or non-use of illegal drugs, etc.) than their married counterparts. They’re also far safer.

None of that stops feminists who invariably oppose shared parenting legislation. Quixotically, that’s also true despite the fact that equal parenting laws would actually help free women with children to work more, earn more, save more and be more secure throughout their lives - all mainstream feminist goals. But no matter; from state to state, country to country, feminist organizations have literally never supported a single shared parenting initiative and have opposed most of them.

The bottom line? We the People strongly support equal parenting, but the narrowest of political elites and moneyed lobbyists stand in the way. They stand in the way not only of the will of the people; they also stand in the way of peace between parents and healthy outcomes for kids. For shame.

Thanks to Leading Women for Shared Parenting for gathering all this information together in one handy place. It forever damns those who oppose children’s rights to both parents and gives comfort to the huge majority that is the rest of us.

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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