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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 15, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Truly, the opponents of Florida SB 668 have nothing to say against it. So, day after day, they simply make up facts to fit their narrative. Here’s the latest example (Sun-Sentinel, 4/13/16). The writer is one Gina Presson who apparently has no knowledge of (a) the bill she opposes or (b) the social science underpinning it.

We can tell (a) from her first sentence.

Senator Tom Lee is calling for one of the first mandated 50-50 child custody splits in the nation, requiring children spend “approximately equal time” with both parents.

Has she read the bill? If she has, she’s lying and if she hasn’t, she’s inexcusably ignorant. Which is it, Ms. Presson? For the thousandth time, SB 668 mandates nothing of the kind. Its only requirement is that judges begin a custody case with the “premise” that the children will benefit from seeing their parents equally. The judge then must consult the 20 factors regarding child custody that already exist in Florida law and about which no one has yet complained. If the judge finds a different allocation of parenting time to be in the children’s interests, he/she is required to explain why. And of course the parents can always make their own agreement.

My guess is that Presson knows this full well but, since she’s opposed to shared parenting, feels entitled to make up facts about the bill. As I’ve so often said, the opposition has no real arguments to make against shared parenting, so they find themselves pushed into a corner. Of course the principled way out of that corner would be to accept the truth about shared parenting – that in most cases it’s best for kids. But it’s one of the salient features of those opposed that principle isn’t their long suit.

So why does Presson oppose a bill that’s supported by all the reliable social science, the vast majority of parents, the vast majority of kids and the Florida Legislature? This is where her article becomes inexplicably loony.

I have spent so much time in family court over the last 10 years that the bailiffs greet me like an old friend. I know from personal experience, even when one parent has primary custody, the other may undermine his or her efforts with school, with doctors and even with the children themselves. Because I had primary custody, I could take legal action, but at what cost? Opportunities were still lost as a result, because justice moves slowly, if at all. Plus, we all suffered unnecessary financial, emotional and physical stress. We are still in court, all these years later, over unpaid support issues. Our children feel like pawns in a war they cannot understand and they are not alone.

Now, I always want to hear the other side of the story. Perhaps Presson is the innocent victim of a heartless ex she portrays herself to be. On the other hand, perhaps her ex has information to add to her short narrative that could cast the case in a whole new light. But since I don’t know the details, I’ll take her description of things as accurate and balanced.

Ms. Presson, look at what you’re saying. You’re describing a painful and draining court case that’s an astonishing 10 years old. You describe your situation as one everyone would want to avoid. Do you not see that, by opposing SB 668, you’re arguing for the very status quo you so abhor? If you’re not willing to read the bill, at least read your own words. The status quo has trapped you in a marathon of conflict with your ex and yet you oppose a bill that would reduce the possibility of that happening to other mothers and fathers.

Ms. Presson, your article doesn’t make sense, even on your own terms. The current system has abused you for a decade and yet you want to stick with it. As reputable social scientists have been pointing out for years now, shared parenting tends to reduce conflict between ex-spouses. Conflict with your ex is exactly what you’re suffering from. If he saw his kids more often, he might be a happier dad. And parents who see their kids regularly are much more likely to pay their child support. SB 668 is the cure for what ails much of Florida family law, but more to the point Ms. Presson, it’s the cure for what ails you.

Unlike other efforts to mislead the public and Governor Rick Scott, Presson moves on to social science to try to make her case. That’s odd since there is no social science to support sole custody of children and much to support shared parenting. So again, Presson has painted herself into a corner. In an effort to get out of it, she quotes Professor Robert Emery, one of the world’s few social scientists who still opposes shared parenting.

How she came up with Emery is anyone’s guess. She certainly didn’t seek out an expert at random. I know this because there are at least 110 scientists worldwide who signed on to Richard Warshak’s summary of the literature on shared parenting in 2014. That represented the cream of the crop of scientists working in the area of parenting time and child well-being. Those 110 scientists favor shared parenting.

By contrast, finding someone outside that rather large circle isn’t easy. The truth is that there’s just a handful of scientists who still hold out against the great weight of information on the subject. Here’s what Emery had to say:

Some academic research supports a 50-50 split when there “is no parental conflict or abuse.” But the studies are based on small samples, as only 10% of all children of divorced parents are living in joint physical custody, says Dr. Robert Emery. Senator Lee maintains those numbers should increase, but Emery says the problems with joint custody outweigh the benefits.

“Children’s lives in joint physical custody resemble that of “travelling salesmen,” Emery says.

The problems with that take on shared parenting are many and varied. The “shuttling between two homes” gambit may sound persuasive until we remember that a massive study of Swedish children, conducted by Malin Bergstrom, concludes exactly the opposite – that children in shared custody are healthier and happier than those in sole care. Contrary to Emery’s claim, the benefits of shared parenting outweigh whatever detriments there may be.

Professor Linda Nielsen of Wakeforest University responded to Emery’s claims this way:

"In the 42 studies (published in English language academic journals) that have compared the outcomes for children in joint physical custody (JPC) to the outcomes of children in sole physical custody, there is no basis for Emery's claim that the problems with joint custody outweigh the benefits. Further, none of the studies comparing sole to JPC children, found that the children in JPC suffer more "dire consequences" caused by "often living under two sets of rules", that they are more likely to report "living in a war zone" or that that have significant problems caused by leaving their belongings at the other parent's home. Emery is also incorrect in asserting that only 10% of all children of divorced parents are living in joint physical custody. For example, in Wisconsin the number is around 30% - and in Sweden it is roughly 50%. We do not have state by state numbers that allow anyone to claim the number is as low as 10%. More importantly, Emery's views are outside the mainstream as evidenced by the fact that more than 110 international scholars agreed two years ago in a consensus report that shared physical custody is in the best interests of children, except the small percentage who need protection from one of their parents"

That, in a nutshell, is the state of social science on shared parenting. Emery is not only wrong, his opposition to shared parenting flagrantly mischaracterizes what we know about children’s welfare post-divorce. But of course Presson didn’t manage to locate Linda Nielsen or any of the other 110 scientists she referred to. No, she was content with one of the handful of holdouts who resist drawing obvious conclusions about what’s truly in children’s interests when their parents divorce.

And speaking of those holdouts, it’s fascinating to note that they’re happy to nitpick those 42 studies, but what they never do is offer one that shows the current system of sole parenting to be working. They quibble about one thing or another in the existing science, but never offer an alternative.

There’s a reason for that – there is nothing to offer. Put simply, no study concludes that sole parenting post-divorce is superior to shared parenting. Not one. When 42 studies come down on the same side of a question and none come down on the other, isn’t it time that we admit the obvious? Countless people, including 110 of the best scientists in the world have done that simple thing. Too bad Robert Emery isn’t one of them.

And too bad opponents of shared parenting continue to make up their own facts to back up their threadbare claims.

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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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