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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.  

April 3, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Picking up from Friday’s piece on Rachel Alexander’s powerful demand to Florida Governor Rick Scott to sign SB 668 that was recently passed by some two-thirds of the Florida Legislature (Town Hall, 3/16/16). Friday’s post dealt with the part of bill that reforms alimony; today’s deals with the parenting time portion of SB 668.

Recall that

The League of Women Voters is supposed to be a nonpartisan, civil organization. But in a letter to the Florida legislature last year, the organization said no new laws are necessary, the existing ones have worked for 200 years.

If anything, that claim is even more scurrilous when made about parenting time than about alimony. Those laws “have worked?” Really?

The LWV wants us, Governor Scott and their many donors to believe that one-third of children in this country having no contact at all with their fathers constitutes “working.” They told Scott that a small mountain of social science demonstrating that the exact opposite is true must be ignored. That divorced fathers face a six-fold increase in their likelihood of suicide also looks good to the LWV.

That children suffer terribly when they lose their dads post-divorce is also what the League calls “working.” And of course, since those emotional scars last long into adulthood, the billions we spend to try to address the multiple problems suffered by the children of divorce must also be an aspect of the success of family law.

And what of basic fairness? Apparently the LWV figures that radical and proven bias on the part of family judges in favor of mothers and against fathers is yet another way in which the laws are “working.”

As I so often say, opponents of shared parenting never mention children’s welfare. That’s because losing a parent to the divorce process isn’t in their interests regardless of the mantra invariably intoned by family law judges that, whatever they do, it’s all in “the best interests of the child.”

Karen Wood, a licensed mental health professional who has worked with the Florida family court system for over 20 years, relayed to me why this bill is so important for children:

“I have worked with an uncountable number of parents and children who have been mentally damaged by the time sharing portion of their parenting plans. Children of divorced parents oftentimes spend their childhoods in therapy struggling with the issues of their parents. These children are often misdiagnosed with disorders such as ADHD due to the behavioral issues that manifest as a result of timeshare issues. These same children often develop anxiety and depression as a way to cope with a life of inconsistency. A parenting plan with a consistent equal shared parenting schedule provides both the parents and the children with the ability to have a predictable schedule, the ability to work and the experience of having both parents parenting.”

Shared parenting is not a gender issue, it is a mental health issue.

Well, actually it’s a gender issue too, although I fully understand Alexander’s desire to bypass the political in favor of the psychological. But the simple truth is that fathers routinely end up holding the short end of the stick post-divorce. That, after all, is why it’s mothers who make up 70% of divorce filers. As researchers Brinig and Allen pointed out years ago, mothers file because they can be confident that they won’t lose their children. Fathers face an altogether different outcome.

But it’s not just fathers whose sex hurts them in divorce court, their sons suffer too. That’s because much research demonstrates that boys raised by single mothers are much more likely than girls to exhibit a wide array of social, emotional and educational deficits. Exactly why that is has been a topic for speculation, but the fact remains. So yes, shared parenting is very much a gendered issue.

Of course it’s not entirely so. Mothers will benefit from equal parenting time too. That’s because they’ll be free of the 80% - 100% of parenting duties courts now place on them. That means that, with shared parenting, they’ll be able to pursue a range of activities now closed to them. Those include working, earning and saving more, but extend to literally anything a given woman might want to do. Does she want to write a novel, learn to paint, work for the National Parents Organization (why not give us a plug?) or anything else? Sharing parenting duties with her ex gives her all the opportunities now denied her.

What’s not to like?

Not all family lawyers oppose SB 668.

Lori Barkus, a family law attorney in Florida, explained how the child custody reform half of the bill would work:

“The timesharing portion would provide judges with a starting point that parents are equally loving and capable. A judge then has full discretion to decide a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child and that particular family. This would be a giant step towards increasing fathers’ participation in their children's lives post divorce.”

Barkus is taking aim squarely at the many misrepresentations that have been laid before the public in recent weeks. As I’ve said so often before, opponents of shared parenting have nothing to back them up, so they misrepresent the terms of bills and what they’d require of judges. SB 668 wouldn’t tie a judge’s hands; it would only establish a legislative premise that equal parenting should be the starting point of any custody case involving fit parents. After that, the judge has discretion to order whatever parenting arrangement he/she considers best for the child.

And then there’s the fact that shared parenting and SB 668 would significantly reduce parental conflict.

Barkus has seen the devastation of families caused by the unfair laws firsthand as a family law attorney. She says, “The bill would reduce the never-ending court battles that have become sadly common in our society. The vague and outdated current law does nothing but promote litigation and produces inconsistent results.”

Who wouldn’t vote for that? Well, family lawyers wouldn’t of course. They take conflict to the bank, which explains their invariable opposition to sensible reform. (Kudos to Barkus for putting aside self-interest and supporting what’s good for kids, fathers, mothers, society generally and state treasuries everywhere.) Just last week we were treated to a Canadian judge excoriating a couple for burning through a whopping $500,000 fighting over custody. Could that money have been spent more wisely – like for the kids college education? Of course it could, but it’s the nature of our “winner take all” system of custody that no parent wants to end up the loser. So they fight tooth and nail to avoid that outcome.

Barkus’s take on parental conflict entirely agrees with the social science on shared parenting. As Dr. Edward Kruk has written, “Equal parenting decreases parental conflict and prevents family violence.” In his excellent book, The Equal Parent Presumption, Kruk, like Barkus, draws a clear connection between our current custody system and parental conflict.

“Adversarial legal processes that result in win-lose outcomes such as sole custody or primary residence seem tailor-made to produce or exacerbate high parental conflict… There is ample research that demonstrates this effect… As discussed, parental conflict increases after sole custody and primary residence determinations and decreases with the establishment of equal or shared parenting arrangements (citations).”

Plus, if inter-spousal abuse is a concern, Kruk makes clear that the research demonstrates that the adversarial nature of divorce together with the “winner take all” outcome increase the likelihood of violence.

The evidence in favor of shared parenting covers the waterfront. However we look at it, equal parenting is both a social and a personal good. There is no principled argument against it. Kudos to Rachel Alexander for her fine article.

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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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