With nearly half of marriages ending in divorce, we here in the Working Dad corner join the National Parents Organization in encouraging state legislatures to explore family court reform as a proven solution to curbing a national trend that continues to have a devastating impact on our modern families.
The current family court system incentivizes divorce while a reform effort to ensure parental equality and shared parenting would leave neither parent in a position to be pigeonholed as primary care giver nor bread winner following divorce or separation. Rather, they would share equally in the responsibility of raising their children following divorce or separation.
“Our family courts continue to incentivize divorce in custody battles by routinely positioning one parent as the winner – the one who receives more time with the children and carries more financial support – while the other parent falls into a role of visitor in the child’s life,” said Dr. Ned Holstein, Founder and Board Chair of National Parents Organization. “If both parents were facing a reality in which they each equally share child rearing following a divorce – both in terms of time and financial support – more parents would be encouraged to preserve the marriage and share the responsibilities of the family.”
The latest data from the federal National Survey of Family Growth indicates that 48 percent of marriages ultimately end in divorce – a statistic that comes at a time when, according to the U.S. Census, family courts award sole custody, typically to the mother, in more than 80 percent of divorce cases, according to the U.S. Census.
Economists Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen echoed Dr. Holstein’s sentiment after evaluating 46,000 divorces. Their findings were published in the report “These Boots Are Made For Walking: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women,” which suggested that the current system leaves one parent better off post-divorce and found that “who gets the children is by far the most important component in deciding who files for divorce.”
Meantime, our nation’s family courts continue with the sole custody/visitor model despite a growing amount of research showing that shared parenting is in the best interest of children. As one recent example, 110 international child development experts signed a report by Dr. Richard Warshak titled “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report.” The study, which was published by the American Psychological Association in 2014, supported shared parenting after divorce.
In their report, Brinig and Allen “favor custody rules that replicate the patterns in marriage as closely as possible while giving each spouse a meaningful role (i.e. not zero) after divorce as opposed to either a ‘winner takes all rule’ like ‘maternal preference’ or ‘primary caretaker.’”
A national legislative trend suggests that our society agrees, as numerous states have recently acted on the research by considering laws that encourage shared parenting after divorce. At least two states have implemented shared parenting laws within the past year, and nearly 20 other states have looked at similar proposals.
States supporting shared parenting
Within the past year, states including Utah and South Dakota have passed and implemented legislation supportive of shared parenting after divorce or separation, and the states that have considered similar proposals within the past year include:
- · Colorado
- · Florida
- · Hawaii
- · Kentucky
- · Maine
- · Maryland
- · Massachusetts
- · Michigan
- · Missouri
- · Nebraska
- · Nevada
- · New York
- · South Carolina
- · Vermont
- · Washington
- · Wyoming
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Census Bureau and numerous researchers have reported alarming outcomes for the 35% of children who are raised by single parents. Yet, until now, this factor has been largely ignored in the conversation about child wellbeing.
Children raised by single parents account for:
- 63% of teen suicides;
- 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions;
- 71% of high school drop-outs;
- 75% of children in chemical abuse centers;
- 85% of those in prison;
- 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders; and
- 90% of homeless and runaway children.
Whether the problem is emotional disturbances of children, drug use, alcohol use, teen pregnancy, poor performance in school, trouble with the law or running with gangs, being raised by a single parent is a powerful risk factor. For many of these outcomes, single parenting is a stronger risk factor than race or poverty. Conversely, children on average do much better on all these measures if they have shared parenting. Children ardently desire shared parenting in most cases and are happier with it.
For parents, shared parenting significantly increases child support compliance, diminishes parental conflict and domestic violence and allows both parents to pursue their careers, social lives and other interests without the burden of singlehandedly raising a child.