The old adage that people hear what they want to hear can probably be similarly stated as people read what they want to read.
A New Mindset for Shared Parenting
Last week I blogged about women leading the charge to enact state legislation across this county to provide for an assumption of shared parenting. I introduced a new, and seemingly influential, organization – Leading Women for Shared Parenting (www.LW4SP.org) – which has been launched with the stated mission to achieve such a result. This is all true and is an important movement. However, last week I also discussed the right and obligation of a court to listen to evidence and craft a custody arrangement different than 50/50, if such a different plan is deemed to be in a particular child’s best interest. The movement for shared parenting is intended to create a presumption – a starting point – but it does not state that shared parenting is an absolute right in every case.
Shared Parenting Is Not an Inalienable Right
The fact remains, all custody arrangements must be in the best interest of the child. There are myriad reasons why a 50/50 parenting plan might not be in a particular child’s best interest. Here are some examples, though certainly this list is not exhaustive, of circumstances which might militate against a 50/50 parenting plan:
The parents live too far apart from each other. Long distances between the parents’ homes and/or the children’s schools may be challenging for the children. The distance issue must be viewed in light of the age of the children, the children’s activities, the amount of time the children will actually be in transit (in some areas of Los Angeles, traveling 10 miles could take significantly longer than 10 minutes to travel), and similar considerations.
The children are at a sensitive age/developmental stage. Children of different ages and developmental stages handle time away from the other parent in different ways. Child development professionals can assist in educating parents about the general thoughts on what type of schedule a child of a certain age finds manageable. Children with special needs, whether educational, emotional, physical or mental, can rarely be subject to general rules and presumptions including that of shared parenting. These children will very often require a more specific assessment of their needs.
The relationship between the parents is strained. Conflict between parents, particularly if it leads one parent to speak negatively about the other parent, may militate against a shared parenting plan.
A parent is not child-centered. If a parent places his or her needs ahead of the child’s (for example, refusing to make the time for child-centered activities, or not seeing that homework is done), this may be a factor against a shared parenting plan.
The child has different bonds with each parent. For whatever reason, a child may not be bonded with one parent. If a lack of a bond makes a child feel insecure when spending long periods of time with the parent to whom he or she is not bonded, it may be a reason not to implement a shared parenting plan; at least at the beginning.
The child’s health, safety or welfare are jeopardized. If a child’s health, safety or welfare cannot be protected by a parent, then shared parenting is highly unlikely, if not impossible to achieve.
Go Forth from the Starting Point
As stated above, this list is not exhaustive; who can think of every circumstance which could arise to result in a shared parenting plan not being in the best interest of a child? For that reason, every case must be assessed independently. No automatic, knee-jerk reactions should ever occur when discussing what is best for a child. Rather, the movement for shared parenting is about changing the starting point; a change in mindset; it does not stand for an absolute, inalienable right.