By Clayton Craddock, Chair, National Parents Organization of New York
Why must kids miss out on certain family relationships when parents separate? It’s cruel for children, who love both parents, to suddenly lose access to everything they once knew when their parents no longer want to live together. Does a child’s love and need for both parents suddenly end when parents decide to separate? A couple may no longer want to be together, but a child wants to remain close to their parents. Most children are willing to do what is necessary to be in a relationship with their caregivers as long as it means that they continue to see them as much as possible after separation.
Barring exceptional circumstances, a child’s right to both loving, fit parents should not be allowed to be used as leverage against the other while personal differences are ironed out in a settlement or in family court.
Our culture is due for a drastic paradigm shift. It’s time to stop seeing one parent as the default and the other as just a visitor. These assumptions are often sexist and outdated. If the parents can no longer live together, the next best thing is for the child to have equal time with each parent.
Our current domestic relations law here in New York State makes no effort to require, or even encourage, that healthy, fit, loving parents spend equal time with their child after a separation. Family courts usually pick one parent to “win custody.” However, in the long run, the children are the biggest losers. When one side of their family suddenly is cut off, children have a strained relationship with not only the non-custodial parent, but the extended family as well. For example, they may rarely see their aunts, uncles, cousins and/or grandparents who they used to see frequently. Extended family relationships are often a vital support system.
Child custody cases in New York State today, can last for weeks, months or years. During this time, the child, under current custom, is oftentimes denied the best of both parents while a judgement is determined. By setting a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting for temporary orders, with room for exceptions if one parent is demonstrably unfit, it will shift the starting point to what’s best for children. It will also free a judges’ time to review and consider more challenging matters.
There is a new bill in the New York State Legislature, sponsored by Assemblyman Chris Tague, that sets a standard of equal time with each parent during this crucial moment. A time when a child needs all the support, reassurance and stability as possible. Bill A09819 will add a rebuttable presumption in temporary child custody proceedings. This legislation specifically takes into account the children’s best interest, and encourages outcomes of shared parental responsibility when possible while completely preserving judicial discretion.
More than 20 states have recently considered shared custody, and an increasing number have adopted statutes in favor of some form of shared parenting. The concept of shared parenting has been validated by social science as well, with about 50 studies endorsing equal custody as best for children in most circumstances.
Shared parenting is also very important gender equality issue. Having fathers more involved in parenting is essential if mothers are to achieve full equality and shrink the gender pay gap. As Gloria Steinem said: “Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.” Shared parenting means neither parent would have to bear the complete burden of child care day at night. Sharing parental responsibilities is a win-win for all involved. Parents can have more time to focus on their careers and even start new businesses. They would have time to care for one of their own elderly relatives if needed. There is more time to dedicate time to be more physically and mentally fit and even start a new relationships.
In 2017, Kentucky passed the nation’s first true shared parenting law. It was the state’s most popular law of the year. In addition to its popularity, since the law went into effect, the law has help decrease conflict in family court. The law is effective and extremely successful. Family court filings are down 11%, and domestic violence claims are down 445 cases.
Why is Kentucky, a conservative “red” state, more progressive than a state like New York? Are we truly progressive in this state or are we interested in preserving the status quo? It’s time for the New York State Legislature to look past the special interests that benefit from our broken family court system. We should be focusing our attention on what children want and need — as much time as possible with both loving, fit and caring parents. If we don’t focus on for what’s best for our children, we are giving into the desires of special interest groups who are fighting to protect the outdated system we all know hasn’t worked. If we don’t do what’s right, we are essentially rallying against our children and propping up a system that only works for those who benefit from continuous conflict.
Assemblyman Chris Tague’s bill A09819 should have bipartisan support. I feel it’s time to support this new legislation that will show just how “progressive” New York can be. Let’s do what’s right for our children and update the law so children won’t lose significant contact with loving parents. When parents separate, the family doesn’t end, it just gets rearranged.
Clayton Craddock is an independent thinker, father of two beautiful children in New York City and is the drummer of the hit broadway musical Ain’t Too Proud. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from Howard University’s School of Business and is a 25 year veteran of the fast paced New York City music scene. He has played drums in a number of hit Broadway musicals including “Tick, tick…BOOM!,Altar Boyz, Memphis The Musical and Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill. In addition, Clayton has worked on: Footloose, Motown, The Color Purple, Rent, Little Shop of Horrors, Evita, Cats, and Avenue Q.
Clayton is the chair of the New York chapter of the National Parents Organization and is focused on promoting shared parenting, where both parents have equal standing raising children after a separation or divorce. He is writing a memoir and writes for various local and national publications.