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Parents should share parenting

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Courts should encourage shared parenting whenever possible

By Stevie Lowery

Months ago, a concerned grandmother came to my office.
It was a Monday morning, and I was busy, but I could tell by the distressed look on her face that she needed someone to talk to.
She proceeded to tell me about a situation involving her son and his custody battle involving his children. The court had ruled that he could only see his children every other weekend.
She was devastated.
Up to that point, she had been extremely involved in her grandchildren’s lives, and she was convinced this was going to change things dramatically.
She admitted that her son hadn’t always made the best decisions in the past, and that had really come back to haunt him in court. But, according to her, he had changed. He was working fulltime, and was trying to be a better person and a better father for his children.
From her perspective, it seemed like the judge sided with the mother in this particular case, which is a common theme for most custody cases, she said. While she knew I couldn’t do anything about the court’s decision, she wanted me to ask the judge how he made his decisions in custody cases. She wanted me to find out why the court seems to side with mothers and the fathers are granted less time with their children.
I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t followed up on her request. I never talked to that specific judge about her concerns. And that has weighed heavily on my mind. Because, I, too, have wondered why it seems that mothers get preferential treatment in custody cases. That might sound odd for me to say, considering I’m a mother, but it’s true. I’ve had many people share their stories with me about their custody battles, and a common theme is the father gets less time with his children.
Now, let me be clear. If the father is a deadbeat dad who doesn’t care for his children like he should, then that’s a whole other issue. But, if he’s a good dad who is responsible and loving and is able to provide for his children, then he should have equal time with his children. At least, that’s the way I see it.
I’ll admit, this subject hits close to home for me. I’m divorced. And, when my ex-husband and I were discussing custody arrangements he and I both agreed that we both deserved equal time with our son. While I do believe children have a unique bond with their mothers, that doesn’t make me feel like I’m entitled to more time with my son than his father. A child needs love and care from both of his parents, which is why I agreed to a 50/50 custody arrangement. I never considered fighting in court over it. It was a no-brainer for me. However, I won’t lie. It was (and still is) extremely difficult “sharing” my son. But, his father and I (along with his stepmother) make it work. And, as a result, my son has two loving homes. Is it ideal? No. Divorce is never ideal. But, it’s as ideal as it can be under the circumstances. And, while my son is still young, he can plainly see that his mother and father work together instead of against each other.
Shared parenting is extremely beneficial for children of divorced parents, and I believe the courts should promote it. However, according to a recent study, that is not what’s happening in most courtrooms throughout the country. The National Parents Organization recently released the 2014 Shared Parenting Report Card, which is the first national study to provide a comprehensive ranking of the states on their child custody statutes, assessing them primarily on the degree to which they promote shared parenting after divorce or separation.
According to the study, a majority of states received poor grades on shared parenting statutes. Kentucky received a D minus. The study states that:
• Kentucky has no statutory preference for, or presumption of, shared parenting (joint legal custody and shared physical custody) for temporary or final orders.
• Kentucky statutes do not explicitly provide for shared parenting during temporary orders.
• Kentucky statutes do not require courts to consider “friendly parent” factors in awarding custody.
• Kentucky statute does not contain any policy statement or other language encouraging shared parenting.
According to Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S., founder and chair of the National Parents Organization, shared parenting is unfortunately not the norm in instances of divorce or separation.
“In fact, family courts award sole custody, usually to the mother, in over 80 percent of child custody cases,” said Holstein. “Our report highlights that many states are not only discouraging shared parenting, but they are also depriving children of what they benefit from most – ample time with both of their parents – while also enabling a system that fosters parental inequality.”
Research has proven that children thrive with shared parenting following separation or divorce. Sadly, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 17 percent of children of separated or divorced parents have shared parenting. I, for one, think that is just heartbreaking. Divorce is hard enough on a child. Not being able to spend equal time with both parents is further damaging to children.
Yes, children are resilient and they have the ability to adapt well to adversity. But, all children deserve to have access to the love and care of both parents, even if they are divorced or separated. And if the parents aren’t mature enough to agree on that on their own, then the courts should strongly encourage it.