October 5, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The ever-weakening forces opposed to children maintaining real relationships with both parent’s post-divorce are still at it. Few people, apart from divorce lawyers and radical feminists, now oppose the notion that children shouldn’t lose one parent when the adults split up. Massive amounts of social science back shared parenting as does common sense.
And let’s be clear; to oppose shared parenting for fit parents is to promote the loss to the child of one of its parents, usually its father. That’s because, in fact, court orders usually so reduce the child’s time with its non-custodial parent that he becomes a parent in name only. He becomes what sociologist Susan Stewart calls a “Disneyland Dad,” i.e. more of an entertainer than a father.
Needless to say, few opponents of shared parenting ever get around to admitting this. They hide behind a variety of pretenses: to allow Dad parenting time means abuse for the child; dads don’t want much time with their children; spending time with Dad means living out of a suitcase for the child; fathers’ rights are all about child support, not spending time with their children; when fathers ask for parenting time, courts give it to them. None of those claims hold water. They’re excuses, not reasons, for denying shared parenting.
Above all, they’re claims made by non-scientists, again, mostly lawyers and anti-dad feminists. That’s because there’s no science to support the claims and researchers active in the field avoid making them.
But that’s not to say that all scientists inquiring into child well-being and parenting time post-divorce are scrupulous about the positions they take. People like Jennifer McIntosh are world-renowned, but not in a good way. Her work on infants and toddlers having overnights with Dad is so shoddy that she’s essentially abrogated most of what she previously claimed.
Then there’s our old friend Robert Emery at the University of Virginia. He’s the one who, in 1998, signed on to a brief amicus curiae written by pro-shared-parenting psychologist, Richard Warshak. Remarkably, just a few years later, he was opposed to shared parenting. What had happened in the interim? Had the science so changed that it forced the decision to oppose shared parenting? Hardly. Indeed, that science had only grown more favorable to children maintaining real relationships with both parents following divorce.
No, the only apparent change wasn’t to the science, but to Emery’s funding. Doris Buffett, daughter of Warren Buffett, and supporter of Duluth-model domestic violence activism, had started funding Emery’s Center for Children, Families and the Law at UVA. Cynical observers wonder if Emery simply sold out. We’ll never know for sure, but, however it came about, Emery is now opposed to shared parenting generally, although he says it’s fine in some cases.
What’s his basis for his new-found antipathy for both parents having meaningful time with their kids? His main beef seems to be that existing science is insufficient for courts to presume that shared parenting is in children’s best interests. That’s clearly a bogus argument. After all, there’s a great deal of science demonstrating that shared parenting is the best arrangement for children post-divorce. Indeed, as Swedish researcher Malin Bergstrom found in her 150,000-cohort study of the children of divorce, shared parenting is second only to married parenting when it comes to children’s mental well-being.
And of course Richard Warshak’s consensus paper on the state of the current science drew the endorsement of 112 scientists worldwide.
So if the reams of science supporting shared parenting aren’t enough for Emery to support it, then what’s the state of science demonstrating the opposite - that shared parenting is bad for kids? That’s right, for all practical purposes, there isn’t any.
And of course, in the courtroom, none of this is theoretical. Judges are faced with individual cases and must decide whether to order meaningful time for both parents or not. Amazingly and hypocritically, Emery counsels, in most cases, “not.” More amazing still, he pretends that his stance is based on the insufficiency of science. Much science supports shared parenting; virtually none supports sole parenting, so Emery opts for sole parenting and bases his position on science. As an old blue-collar client of mine used to say, “That don’t make no damn sense!”
Finding himself up a slender tree with that claim, Emery now has a book promoting yet another idea. It’s as if he believes that, if he just keeps making claims, one of them will garner popular support somehow. It’s the old analogy of throwing mud at the wall to see if it sticks. This one doesn’t either.
His book is entitled “Two Homes, One Childhood” and its earth-shattering proposal is that parents should fashion their child custody agreement to be “flexible” over time. That is, as the child grows and its needs change, the custody agreement should, in some way, change with it. This Emery none too modestly tells us is “innovative” and “the wave of the future. It’s neither.
Earth to Bob! That’s what people do all the time. When circumstances change, they go back to court to ask the judge to change the order of custody. Maybe one parent needs to move away, so they need to fashion a different plan for parenting time. Perhaps the child has become a teenager and expressed a desire to spend more time with one parent. One parent may have developed a drug habit or been incarcerated. A thousand different circumstances can change that require altering the custody arrangement. Most of the time, parents simply agree on how to refigure their situation and present their plan to the judge to sign off on.
So in fact, Emery’s revolutionary idea is nothing new. And, taken literally, it’s unworkable. How can the parents of, say, a two-year-old, possibly anticipate what changes may occur in their (or the child’s) circumstances over the next 16 years in order to craft a parenting order to cover all that time? And why not just do it the way parents do now, i.e. change existing orders to suit their needs or ask a judge to do so?
Most importantly, how does Emery on one hand oppose shared parenting in most cases, but at the same time recommend custody orders that provide for it at some time in the future? (Please refer to my client’s comment quoted above.)
Emery seems to want to straddle the fence. He wants to say that the science on shared parenting is insufficient, but also that in some cases, shared parenting is best for kids. He doesn’t like shared parenting, but parents should craft “flexible” orders that allow for it. Come on Bob, no one’s buying what you’re selling.
That’s in large part because his book is filled with debunked notions, scientific claims with no citations and, frankly, the very, very strange. For example, Emery claims, against the weight of much science, that children not only don’t bond with both parents, but can’t. His evidence?
If you believe babies can have two primary attachment figures, answer this question: Whom should ducklings follow on a pond if Mom and Dad swim in opposite directions?
Seriously, ducklings? Little as I think of Emery, I’m going to guess he knows that the early childhood behavior of ducks and humans is different, that the two species have evolved very different ways of raising offspring. My question is, “Bob, why do you disrespect your readers’ intelligence so?” Or are you so desperate to oppose children having real relationships with both parents that you stoop to the nonsensical?
The takeaway is that opponents of shared parenting have essentially nothing on which to hang their hats. They still have their story and are stickin’ to it, but more and more, their arguments are being ignored and rightly so. Increasingly, everyone from We the People, to state legislatures and family court judges is concluding the obvious – that kids need two parents, whether they’re married or not.
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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