November 20, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Last week, I posted two pieces rebutting the scandalously inaccurate and nakedly self-interested claims by Michigan attorney John F. Schaefer. One of his most blatantly misleading claims he was that the system of sole/primary parenting post-divorce is backed up by “solid research.” So I emailed Schaefer asking for links to the said research. It’s been five days now and, to no one’s surprise, Schaefer hasn’t responded, much less produced the, er, “solid research.”
That serves as a lead-in to this excellent article by NPO’s Linda Wright regarding the same legislation, Michigan House Bill 4691 (Lansing State Journal, 11/19/17). Of course that’s the same bill Schaefer wrote about, even though his representation of it bore almost no resemblance to the actual bill. Wright hits all the high spots about shared parenting and HB 4691, but perhaps most important is this:
[A] recent poll conducted by the Market Resource Group showed that a whopping 84% of registered voters in Michigan support joint custody and equal parenting time after divorce or separation, as long as there is no history of abuse, addiction or mental illness.
That’s right, an astonishing 84% of Michigan residents support equal parenting time for mothers and fathers as long as each is fit and non-abusive, which is to say, the vast majority of parents. Stated another way, they support HB 4691.
That means that HB 4691 not only does what’s best for kids and what’s right for both parents, but it also represents the will of the people. What Schaefer and the other family lawyers who oppose the bill are doing is more than just undermining children’s welfare and parents’ rights, it’s anti-democratic. By any definition, in the survey, shared parenting won in a landslide. If the Michigan Legislature doesn’t pass it and the governor doesn’t sign it into law, they are openly thwarting the will of the voters. They are telling their constituents, “We don’t respect your opinions; we know better than you.”
What’s most remarkable about the poll is that 66% of voters strongly believe that having two parents share custody of their children after divorce is in the best interest of the kids. Few political issues engender such a visceral and overwhelming response. Strong support for shared parenting was evident across every geographic region of the state, both genders and roughly equally among Democrats and Republicans. Seventy-six percent of registered voters support passing a law to force judges to rule for joint custody unless a parent is unwilling or unable to provide proper care.
Much the same was found to be true in Maryland two years ago. Strong support for equal parenting crosses all demographic boundaries: men and women alike strongly supported it; blacks and whites do too as do Republicans and Democrats. Face it, this is one issue about which We the People have proven ourselves wiser and better informed than have political elites. John Schaefer’s misinformed and misleading op-ed was all of a piece with others written by family lawyers across the country about other similar bills. It’s an effort to protect his (and their) income stream. Kids, fathers, mothers? They’re not so important.
This poll is a wake-up call for policymakers. The status quo is not working. Judges strip custody from one parent in over half of all divorce cases. In some counties, as many as 85% of divorce cases result in one parent losing custody of their children, according to county-by-county data released by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services last year.
Roughly 26,000 kids a year experience the stress of divorcing parents, according to the most recent data by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Each year, state family courts create over an estimated 10,000 single-parent children because of the courts’ decisions to strip custody from divorcing parents. The most common parenting plan for non-custodial parents calls for every other weekend visitation, meaning tens of thousands of Michigan children will never experience one of their two parents dropping them off at school or packing them a lunch. Those duties are assigned entirely to the other parent.
Those numbers are much like the ones we’ve seen come out of North Dakota, Texas and, earlier, Nebraska. For reasons of bias or ignorance about what arrangement is best for kids post-divorce, judges continue to issue orders that not only thwart parental rights, but do damage to children who, effectively, lose one parent to the divorce process. It’s morally wrong, destructive and entirely unnecessary.
Michigan parents and children deserve better. Their elected representatives have a golden opportunity to do the right thing for everyone – everyone, that is, except family lawyers like John Schaefer.
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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