This past weekend was Father’s Day. For many fathers, this is one of their favorite days of the year because they know they are going to be able to spend this day with their children. The remainder of the year, many fathers are considered non-custodial parents, meaning they have the children in their care less than 50% of the time. Hours can be spent discussing why this is the reality; but the real question to be debated is whether it is in the best interest of the children for the laws to change and provide that the default decision is to implement a 50/50 custodial arrangement unless domestic violence or other compelling reasons require deviating from such an assumption.
Well, there is a new movement afoot: women leading the charge to enact state legislation across this county to provide for an assumption of shared parenting. A new, and seemingly influential, organization – Leading Women for Shared Parenting (www.LW4SP.org) – has been launched with the stated mission to achieve such a result. The organization’s website shows that its women-only members are both authoritative (as lawyers, legislators and similar thought leaders) and are committed to the belief that children need both parents in a shared custody arrangement.
The Research (A Sampling)
Dr. Robert Bauserman of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has been studying shared custody for years. Dr. Bauserman found that children who live with both parents or who spend time with them in shared physical or joint legal custody are “better adjusted” than those who were in sole custody situations. Children in shared custody tend to have fewer emotional and behavioral problems, better relationships with family, and better performance in school. “These children,” says Bauserman, “were as well-adjusted as intact family children. This is probably because joint custody provides the child with an opportunity to have ongoing contact with both parents.”
Surveys consistently show that between 78 and 87 percent of both men and women support shared parenting – and there is no statistical difference between the sexes. Dr. William Fabricius, an Associate Professor of Psychology of at Arizona State University, discovered these results when polling residents in Pima County, Arizona. He also found that polls taken in Canada and a vote in Massachusetts revealed very similar results. But sadly, Fabricius writes, “there is a very sizable gap between current popular views strongly favoring equal custody, as reflected in polls and votes on custody allocation, and actual legal outcomes.”
Each Case Is Different
This gap does mean that the courts fail to assess the needs of each individual case and the individual children (as should always occur). There are plenty of reasons why a 50/50 custody arrangement is not developmentally in a child’s best interest, for example, if an infant or young child has certain special needs; or a child is a special needs child. But the case for shared parenting holds that the courts, society and parents should begin with the assumption that 50/50 custody ought to be the default custodial arrangement, reflecting the benefits shown by research as developed over the years in this field. Again, if a 50/50 arrangement is not in a particular child’s best interest, then the court retains the right and obligation to hear evidence and craft a different custody arrangement which is deemed to be in that specific child’s best interest.
This is Going to Take the Work of Women to Change the Status Quo
Leading Women for Shared Parenting (LW4SP) explains best why its members believe it is women – not men – who must be the leading advocates for the change to 50/50 custody:
LW4SP & the Simple Lessons of History
“LW4SP was founded based upon the simple lessons of history. When one looks at the history of ‘Rights Movements,’ the same story is told in repetition. The question was not if African-Americans deserved equal rights…they did. The question was, were white people going to be fair? The question was not if women deserved the right to vote…they did. The question was, were men going to be fair? This movement will be no different. The question is not if children deserve equal time with their gathers…they do. The question is, are women going to be fair? Further, we have the benefit of already knowing the answer as poll after poll has shown between 78 percent and 87 percent of the public supports equally shared parenting. The only way one achieves such numbers is through the majority of women supporting our cause.
When whites began adding their voices to those calling for African-American rights, the fight was over. When men started adding their voices to those calling for women to have the right to vote, the fight was over. LW4SP knows that when women add their voices to those calling for equally shared parenting, this fight too will be won.”
The real custody issue is not “father’s rights” or the presumptive right of the mother. Rather, it is time to think about each child’s right to enjoy both of his or her parents; this should be the starting point in the case-by-case decision-making process of what is in each child’s best interest.