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

This article marks another milestone on the road toward our society’s acceptance of shared parenting as the norm post-divorce (Time, 9/29/16). Stated another way, if Time Magazine approves, can shared parenting’s acceptance by elite decision-makers be far away?

And that of course is what’s at issue. As the recent survey of Maryland voters strongly indicates, Americans recognize the merits of shared parenting and want state legislatures to change their laws to promote it.

But political and pop culture elites aren’t so sure that We the People should get what we want, even if it is clearly in children’s best interests. So when shared parenting bills come before state lawmakers, the usual gaggle of divorce lawyers and anti-dad feminists are sure to show up making their long-debunked arguments opposing children maintaining real relationships with both parents when the adults split up. And even when lawmakers pass those bills, governors can often be counted on to veto them as Rick Scott did this year in Florida and Mark Dayton did in Minnesota three years ago.

Just as a sidelight, I was astonished to learn that the same Rick Scott who vetoed a shared parenting bill passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the Florida Legislature issued a proclamation recently promoting Dads Take Your Child to School Day.

Here’s what Scott had to say to the Sunshine State’s dads (Orlando Sentinel, 9/27/16):

"[A]s a father and grandfather, I understand … a father's involvement in their child's learning is critical to student success from preschool through college and sets the foundation for preparing Florida's students to be lifelong learners and meaningful contributors to society."

Yes, “as a father and grandfather,” Scott understands that a father is so important to a child’s success in school that he made sure that children of divorce would continue to lose contact with their dads due to the uneducated decisions of family court judges. The man’s hypocrisy is amazing to behold.

Such is the state of elite opinion on shared parenting. They’re all for it until Mom and Dad get divorced and then, for reasons I can only guess at, Dad becomes expendable. So I’m glad to see Belinda Luscombe’s piece in Time. Let’s hope it influences others to buy into shared parenting.

For decades, there was a widely held belief they should have one home with the primary caretaker, often the mother. But that status quo is changing. Absent some mitigating factor, such as an abusive mom or a mentally ill dad, many experts now agree that kids are happier and healthier when they can “maintain and build on meaningful relationships with both of their parents,” says Michael Lamb, who teaches psychology at the University of Cambridge. More often than not, that requires living under the same roof as each parent for significant periods of time–which is possible only under joint, not sole, custody.

These claims are supported by reams of data, but the reasoning behind them is mostly commonsense: when it comes to parenting, two minds are better than one.

And not just two minds; two bodies as well. Parenting takes reserves of energy a single person seldom has. The ability to pass the kids from one parent to another is vital not only to child well-being, but to parental well-being too. To be the best parent possible, a mother or father needs physical and mental rest and recuperation. Plus, because mothers and fathers tend to parent differently, children benefit from the synergy of differing styles.

Dads, for example, are more likely to engage kids in physical play, which helps kids learn how to handle their bodies (no hitting!) and their emotions on and off the field. Moms, meanwhile, are more likely to reason with and socialize kids, which helps them understand how their actions affect others. And even if parents don’t occupy traditional gender roles–or are in a same-sex relationship–depriving a kid of one of them can have devastating long-term effects. A 2007 study found that kids who lived with each of their parents at least 35% of the time were less depressed and had fewer health problems and stress-related illnesses than those who lived with just one parent.

Meanwhile, Luscombe points out that many dads are marginalized in their kids’ lives.

So if psychologists have more or less ruled in favor of joint physical custody, why isn’t it more common? (The most recent figures from Pew Research found that only 22% of U.S. dads who don’t live with their kids see them more than once a week.)

What she doesn’t say is that those “dads who don’t live with their kids” are very often those who’ve been forbidden to see their kids “more than once a week” by a court of law. In short, family courts are perhaps the major villain in our ongoing national drama of fatherless kids. Why family court judges aren’t required to receive training in the overwhelming social science on shared parenting, Luscombe doesn’t ask.

But she does wonder if judicial bias may be at work.

Some cite judicial bias, arguing that because mothers have historically been the primary caregiver, they have an advantage over fathers in custody hearings.

Indeed, some do exactly that. But Luscombe’s iteration deftly avoids the issue. In fact, some half-dozen studies demonstrate a marked pro-mother/anti-father bias on the part of judges and the lawyers who practice in family courts. That of course is all the more reason for those judges to read the science on the most important issue on which they rule. Dr. Richard Warshak and 112 prominent scientists worldwide have helpfully distilled the state of the science on parenting time and children’s welfare into a single document. It should be required reading for every person who sits in judgement of child custody cases. Too bad Luscombe nowhere mentions it.

Meanwhile, her journalistic “hook” is the recent and hugely ballyhooed split up of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. That’s a good thing, I think. My guess is that Pitt will be revealed to be a fine father and the California court adjudicating their divorce will give something close to 50/50 parenting time to the two. Therefore, the widespread publicity generated by their divorce will promote the idea of shared parenting in ways few of the rest of us can.

 

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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.

#sharedparenting, #TimeMagazine, #fatherlessness, #judicialbias

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