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May 10, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The most recent erroneous and illogical attack on shared parenting appears here (Forbes, 5/7/15). It comes to us courtesy of Jeff Landers who is something called a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. His piece is objectively wrong in almost every detail. But his claims aren’t just wrong; they’re also sexist and opposed to children’s welfare. Other than that, it’s a fabulous article.

Generally, his piece is about the many shared parenting bills pending before state legislatures this year and proposed child support reform. He doesn’t like them. Landers is opposed to all of it. Or, to be more accurate, he doesn’t like what he believes reform proposals to be which, like so much of anti-shared parenting rhetoric is greatly at odds with what the bills actually are.

So, here he goes:

Such legislative changes have been proposed by men who feel they’ve been treated unfairly by a system that has, for many reasons over the years, favored mothers as custodial parents.

That’s both false and misleading. In fact, women are some of the most zealous advocates for shared parenting anywhere. Even a casual look at those testifying in favor of shared parenting bills would reveal countless women doing so. Or if that’s too difficult, a quick glance at the website for Leading Women for Shared Parenting (LW4SP) shows a list of dozens of prominent women who advocate for shared parenting. And of course there are countless women who aren’t “prominent” but who nevertheless can be found in the trenches every day battling for the rights of children to have real relationships with both parents post-divorce. Last year’s Measure 6 in North Dakota was backed by a committee that consisted almost exclusively of women. Molly Olsen in Minnesota has lobbied the state legislature for 14 years on behalf of shared parenting. IN every state, organizations promoting shared parenting are spearheaded by women. The National Parent’s Organization, until recently was led by a woman. Landers knows none of this.

Nor does he know about the literally countless “second wives” who see up close and personally how the loss of a child to divorce devastates men. Those women are highly likely to see the value of shared parenting and support it.

But Landers’ agenda is to tar the movement for children maintaining healthy relationships with both parents as strictly a function of selfish fathers, so understandably he avoids mention of inconvenient facts. The irony of course is that it’s his position that’s the selfish one, a topic I’ll deal with in more detail later.

He moves on to the next anti-father/anti-child bullet point — that custody cases need to be decided on a case-by-case basis, as if shared parenting laws would prevent that.

Experienced, knowledgeable judges are empowered to evaluate the circumstances of each case before them, and direct the litigants to the fairest possible solution to their individual case.

Oh, I see. Since that’s the situation we have, that must mean that, in general, custody orders represent “the fairest possible solution to their individual case.” In short, what we have now is pretty much the best situation possible for everyone, parents and kids alike.

If that were anything like the truth, how might Landers explain so much social science on children, parents and the judicial system demonstrating the opposite? How would he explain Dr. Edward Kruk’s analysis of the literature as concluding that “none of these studies have found that children in sole custody fare better… than children in joint custody families,” but the opposite has been shown. Landers disposes of 100% of the literature on family structure and child well-being by the simple expedient of ignoring it.

While most judges are indeed “experienced” in doing what they do, they daily prove themselves to be anything but “knowledgeable.” I’ve complained many times that state laws and judicial practice on child custody are dramatically at odds with the known social science on child well-being following divorce. The simple fact is that lawmakers don’t know the science and judges aren’t taught it. If they were, they’d issue different orders than they do in almost every case.

As a matter of fact, when researcher William Fabricius was allowed to offer family judges in Arizona the information on shared parenting, their orders changed dramatically. So once again, Landers’ assumption that judges know what they’re doing just because they’ve done it for a long time is unsupported by empirical fact.

Moving on…

The proposed laws remove or severely limit that flexibility.

Again, that’s just objectively false. Every single state has guidelines for parenting time. They also spell out situations in which those guidelines can be deviated from. Equal parenting bills do the same. The only difference is that their guidelines specify a range of parenting time that’s closer to 50/50 than do existing guidelines. And there’s nothing rigid about them. Judges can still use their discretion to deviate from the guidelines when circumstances require it.

That shared parenting laws would take away judicial discretion is nothing more than yet another straw man argument by anti-child/anti-father forces that have nothing of substance to support their position. After all, one of the most obvious features of existing child custody laws is the uniformity of their results. Mothers get custody and fathers don’t. Fathers’ visitation time is confined to between 14% and 20% of total parenting time. Judges may have discretion, but they don’t seem to be using it much. The rate of maternal sole or primary custody hasn’t changed statistically in the U.S. in over 20 years.

Critics of the proposed child custody laws rightly contend that insisting on a 50/50 custody arrangement gives undue influence to abusive husbands, and wrongly places the burden on the spouse in the weaker position — usually the wife — to have to prove that the arrangement is not right.

Like the other bullet points of those opposed to children having meaningful relationships with their fathers post-divorce, the first part of this claim is objectively false. The second part is correct, but the suggestion that a parent should be able to simply make a claim of DV and oust the other parent from the child’s life is too absurd to take seriously.

Yes, the anti-dad crowd does contend that about 50/50 custody, but they do not do so “rightly.” The claim is false for the good and sufficient reason that every single shared parenting bill provides an exception for cases of domestic violence or child abuse. Mostly of course they don’t have to since those conditions already appear in existing law. But the notion that, in some always unexplained manner, shared parenting bills would require judges to ignore abuse is, once again, simply false.

Amazingly, Landers reprises the claims that mothers in custody cases are “in the weaker position” and therefore shouldn’t have to produce actual evidence of their claims of abuse.

The weaker position? With 82% of child custody going to mothers, how does Landers figure they’re in the weaker position? How does he figure fathers committing suicide at eight time the normal rate when they divorce reflects strength on their part? What about the generalized refusal of the courts to enforce fathers’ visitation rights? What about going to jail when a father falls behind on his child support payments, but no meaningful consequences for non-compliance with visitation? What about $5 billion in federal funding for child support enforcement but only $10 million for visitation support? What about non-custodial mothers in arrears on child support being only one-eighth as likely to go to jail as fathers? Somehow Landers figures all that to represent dads’ strength in the child custody process. Who can guess how?

Landers’ piece is so bad, I can’t deal with it in a single response, so Part 2 tomorrow.

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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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