Fathers are scoring minor victories across the country as more states are pushing through legislation that would require courts to give greater consideration to shared parenting when determining custody of minor children following divorce.
More than 20 states have legislation in the works that would maximize the amount of time non-custodial parents receive with their children.
The laws vary from simply increasing the minimum amount of parenting time, to requiring judges to award equal time barring definitive proof that it is not in the children’s best interests.
These steps toward balancing custody arrangements come on the heels of mounting evidence that children fare much better when they have a meaningful relationship with both parents — a situation that does not exist when non-custodial parents are regulated to one evening a week and every other weekend.
Research continues to support shared parenting
While conventional wisdom has long thought that shared parenting produces unnecessary stress on children by continually shuffling them back and forth between homes, a recent study of over 150,000 12- and 15-year-old students found that was not the case.
The results showed that children who lived with both parents suffered from significantly fewer psychosomatic problems than children who lived primarily with one parent.
It has also long been assumed that “quality” time between children and their parents is more important than the quantity of time spent together. This can be the basis for the argument that it is still possible for the non-custodial parent to have a meaningful relationship with their child despite limited access.
However, developing a quality relationship requires sufficient time together to create a significant connection. A parent needs to be involved in the daily routines of their children to foster that sort of emotional bond, which is not feasible under current standard custody agreements.
Additionally, at the First International Conference on Shared Parenting held last year, family health practitioners composed of researchers and medical, legal and health professionals came to a number of conclusions regarding custody situations.
Most importantly, they determined that the current “best interest of the child” standard and sole custody residence orders are not serving the needs of children and families following divorce.
The consensus reached is that it requires a minimum of one-third time with each parent with additional benefits accruing up to 50/50 parenting time to achieve the best outcome for a child’s well-being.
These findings clearly show that children benefit most from being equally involved in both parent’s lives, so it is shocking that there are so many dissenters when it comes to letting fathers have an equal role in raising their children following a divorce.
Unreasonable arguments against co-parenting
There are several groups that regularly oppose shared parenting legislation as it comes up around the country, including divorce attorneys, Bar Associations and feminist organizations.
Lawyers and Bar Associations claim the bills reduce the ability for judges to award custody based on the facts presented in the case, while feminist groups argue that supporting shared parenting standards will give potentially abusive men more control and over their victims.
While this would certainly be cause for alarm, that is obviously not the aim (or even unintended consequence) of any shared-parenting bills currently on the table.
For one thing, none of the legislation makes shared parenting mandatory. The most extreme legislative changes, such as those in New York and Washington, would require judges to award equal parenting time unless there is proof it would against the children’s best interests.
One would assume that a case where the father was convicted of domestic battery or drug abuse would not be found to have equal custody as benefiting the children.
Most of the bills are not even full-on equal custody anyway, but simply measures to increase parenting time for the non-custodial parent.
Given the overwhelming evidence supporting shared parenting as in the best interest of children, it is surprising how groups and organizations claiming to champion children’s interests can oppose these measures.
Many speculate there are other reasons behind their opposition, such as the money attorneys would lose out on if extended litigation during custody disputes became a thing of the past or that mothers (who win primary custody the majority of the time) would lose out on child support.
Whether there is some nefarious reasoning behind the opposition or not may never be determined, but at least the resistance groups that have been a hurdle to passing any sort of shared parenting reform are gradually losing ground.
It has become more and more clear that for family courts to truly do what they have always claimed as their intention when determining custody — to create an arrangement which is in the children’s best interests — that shared parenting will need to become the standard.
While passing any sort of reform is an incredibly slow process and changing the paradigms ingrained in family courts over decades will take even longer, the gears are finally turning on making shared parenting a reality in many states.
Hopefully, this is only the beginning on what will eventually be the new default situation for families following a divorce.
It is a little soon to break out the champagne and proclaim a total victory, but fathers — and more importantly children — are winning small legislative battles across the country that will eventually lead to vastly improved post-divorce families.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”