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April 6, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Jennifer L. W. Fink gets it. Here’s her post on a site called Building Boys and it’s a must-read for anyone who’s skeptical of shared parenting (Building Boys, 3/25/15). I don’t have a lot to add to what she says because she pretty much covers the waterfront.

Fink lives in Wisconsin that has a child custody statute that is one of the best in the country. It presumes joint legal custody and that it’s in children’s interests to have meaningful relationships with both parents. Fink is candid; the judge in her divorce case basically forced equal or close to equal parenting on her. He/she did so because the law required it. Fink resented it at the time.

She and her husband were bitter enemies during their divorce and she, having done the great majority of the hands-on parenting during their marriage, expected to be “rewarded” with primary custody of their two sons. But without any sort of domestic violence or child abuse on her husband’s part, the law and the judge pushed their parenting time toward equality. Fink considered that unfair.

But now, five years later, she literally gives thanks for the equal parenting regime forced on her by Wisconsin law.

I thank the Wisconsin court system for presuming that shared parenting is in the best interest of children, because without that presumption, I’m pretty sure I would have happily assumed the larger portion of parenting and relegated the boys’ dad to a lesser role. And that, I now know, would have been bad for my boys, bad for their dad and bad for me.

So tell me. How often have you seen a parent thank the family court system for what it did in his/her child custody case? That Fink does speaks volumes about her as a person and volumes more about the value of shared parenting. Here’s a woman who plainly had a lot of her sense of her self-worth tied up in being a parent to her two boys. She strongly wanted vindication of that self-worth from the court. She wanted the lion’s share of the parenting time for herself.

[U]p until the point of our divorce, I’d been the parent to schedule and take the children to all of their doctor’s appointments. I’d been the parent who researched education, health and parenting information, and the parent who spent the bulk of her time performing childcare. Why should I, the clearly involved parent, be forced share time and decision making power with a man who couldn’t be bothered to be involved when we were married?

That’s what I thought at the time. It’s perhaps obvious, but important to note, that I was hurt, angry and bitter at that point in my life. I never wanted to be a divorced parent, never wanted to “share” my children. I wanted my life to continue as it had been. I wanted my kids’ lives to continue without more disruption than absolutely necessary.

And — full disclosure — I’ll admit that I thought I was the better parent. I knew the boys’ father would continue to be a necessary part of their lives, but in my mind, at that time, he was a necessary but unpleasant obstacle. At times, I wished he’d go away all together.

Her feelings are understandable. This culture places a huge value on motherhood; pro-mother messages can be seen and heard every day, many times a day. Mothers are routinely portrayed as fulfilled and happy by motherhood as of course many are. And when women are pregnant, certain sex hormones bond them indelibly to their children. So of course Fink felt entitled to continue as the primary parent.

But what she didn’t reckon on is the fact that her children’s welfare doesn’t depend on who was their primary caregiver. It depends on maintaining full, solid relationships with both parents. Those boys formed biological attachments to their father when they were infants. Yes, he may not have done much of the hands-on parenting, but they knew him as their dad. They saw, as most of us would, that Fink and her husband simply occupied separate roles in their family. He was the provider, she was the caregiver. That he went to work every day to earn the family’s bread didn’t lessen the children’s attachment to him.

So the law and the court were wise to make sure that, as collateral damage of the adults’ divorce, he and his sons weren’t divorced from each other.

Now Fink understands that and, to her great credit, admits it.

That was more than five years ago. Since then, our boys have begun their trips through puberty. Since then, I’ve learned more about the role of fathers and the importance of males to adolescent male development. I’ve seen my sons’ need for their father and my point of view has changed. My boys’ dad is not an unpleasant obstacle; he’s an integral part of their lives. My boys are doing well today in large part because their dad is an active part of their lives.

It’s not easy to admit you’re wrong about something as important as parenting. Kudos to Fink for being able to do so. And kudos likewise for her unabashedly going to bat for shared parenting.

I’ve come to realize, though, that it’s best for kids to spend plenty of time with both mom and dad. It’s best if both parents are very involved in day-to-day parenting, and it’s best to put the needs of the kids ahead of the parents’ needs or desires…

Yet shared parenting post-divorce is not the norm in most states. I was shocked when I learned that fact. It’s 2015, and yet most states do not presume both parents to be equal (and equally worthy of parenting) post-divorce.

Not only that, but she knows a lot about shared parenting laws and the bills before various state legislatures. She knows some of the arguments against them, and she’s not buying them.

Here’s what I think: Emotional and physical violence should always been taken seriously, and measures should be put in place to protect children and ex-spouses from violence, threats and intimidation. Everyone who works in the family court system should be required to learn about domestic violence, and should have to document their understanding of the issue. Children should not have to spend time with abusive parents, and ex-spouses should not be required to work with an abusive ex.

However, the shared parenting bills being proposed give judges and families plenty of leeway to create parenting plans that are sensitive to families’ needs. No one is suggesting that children be sent to live with an abuser; the bills contain clauses to restrict parents’ involvement in case of domestic violence, incarceration or even “a pattern of willfully creating conflict.”

Instead, the bills make it easier for children of divorced parents to have access to both parents — something that’s been shown, over and over again, to be good for kids and good for society.

Correct. Those are paragraphs that should be read by the crowd that thinks children should lose their fathers when their parents divorce. All shared parenting bills make exceptions for actual, founded cases of domestic violence or child abuse. The notion that, if the law presumes equal parenting then “abusers will get custody” has always been complete nonsense. As Fink says, “no one is suggesting that children be sent to live with an abuser.” And no one ever has.

Fink calls herself “so, so glad” that the Wisconsin court went against her wishes and forced shared parenting on her. She’s glad because she sees all too clearly that keeping her ex actively involved in their boys’ lives has been good for them. She sees that, with the extreme enmity of divorce, parents often want to act out of spite or jealousy. They often want to punish the other parent and, as such, can’t be trusted to act in the best interests of children. So we all rely on courts to be the responsible party and impose on parents what’s best for kids.

The sad fact is that courts rarely do that. Judges are hamstrung by laws that militate in favor of unequal custody and their own biases in favor of mothers and against fathers. But in Wisconsin, the judge was constrained by the law to do what was best for Fink’s children and their mother and father. It took her a while, but she now understands how right that was.

Her blog post should be sent to every family judge in the country.

Thanks to Don for the heads-up.

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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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