Thursday, July 27, 2017
A new law grants the wishes of many Kentucky children by bringing them what they need most following divorce: both parents.
Effective this month, the state has a new law on temporary child custody orders, which are the starting point for separating families. Kentucky’s House and Senate unanimously approved the changes to Kentucky Statute 403.280 making joint custody and equal parenting time the presumption in temporary child custody hearings during divorce processes. Simply put, custody conversations will begin with the two-parent model.
The law gives children a better chance to see both parents after a divorce as long as both parents, married or not, are good caregivers. Not only is this what children often want but studies overwhelmingly show that significant time with both parents is best for kids. It’s important to point out that the equal parenting time standard does not apply in cases where children are likely to be abused and/or neglected. The new rules apply to both previously married and unmarried couples.
Children in married families enjoy access to, and interactions with, both of their parents. Before the new law, children in separated families enjoyed whichever parent the court picked for “primary custody."
These children were often allowed a short “visit” with their other parent, but the parenting roles of the other parent were very limited.
However, the new law strengthens a better arrangement called “shared parenting.” In shared parenting, kids get to see both parents equally. Instead of one parent winning, the children do.
Research clearly shows that shared parenting children score significantly better on a wide range of emotional, behavioral, social, health, and academic outcomes than sole custody children. Active involvement by both parents following a divorce is essential to having healthy, happy, active, and involved children and greatly reduces the risks of problems ranging from drug use to premarital sex. Importantly, research shows that shared parenting benefits children even in situations where parents do not get along or communicate effectively.
Under the new law, the kids clearly win – but both parents win, too. Neither parent is denied his or her half of parenting time. Neither parent is forced to work all day long and then be a single parent all night long every day. Both parents have half their evenings and weekends to focus on their careers, tend to one of their own parents, or start a new relationship.
Now, fewer divorcing Kentucky parents will be fighting tooth and nail to “win” their children. Thanks to Gov. Matt Bevin and bill sponsors David Osborne, R-Prospect, Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, and Robby Mills, R-Henderson, joint custody in temporary orders is Kentucky law.
As a mother and grandmother, I’ve witnessed first-hand the struggles wonderful fathers face while fighting for time with their children in the Michigan family court system. The cards are stacked against them.
Time and time again, fathers lose custody battles because the courts say one parent, most times the mother, is better for the children. Why is losing one parent even a consideration? When children have two fit, willing, and able parents, why not keep both? Just because the parents separate, why are the children forced to lose one of them? It’s 2017, not 1917 — gender roles are a thing of the past. If mothers want to be the primary breadwinners, they can be. If fathers want to be stay-at-home dads — more power to them.
Luckily, Michigan legislators are working on a solution for our state’s children. Before the Legislature paused for summer break, the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee passed HB 4691, which is sponsored by Rep. Jim . The bill places Michigan in line to follow in the footsteps of states including Kentucky and Missouri, which have recently passed laws supportive of shared parenting — a flexible arrangement where children spend as close to equal time with each parent as possible after divorce or separation.
This legislation is aimed at changing the current winner-take-all landscape that forces a terrific parent, usually the father, almost completely out of the picture and into a role that more resembles a visitor.
The over 40 psychological studies on the topic as well as statistics disagree with the court’s antiquated tradition of awarding sole custody a great majority of the time (U.S. census stats show mothers receive sole custody more than 80 percent of the time). If mothers are better for singularly raising their children, why do federal statistics show that these children account for 63 percent of teen suicides? Why are we not outraged that 71 percent of kids who drop-out of high school are from single mother homes? Why should we not address the fact that 85 percent of those in prison come from fatherless homes? Why would anyone not want to fix this crisis?
Current research overwhelmingly shows children need and want both parents in their lives. Consider just one recent example: The American Psychological Association published research by William V. of Arizona State University in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law titled, “Should Infants and Toddlers Have Frequent Overnight Parenting Time With Fathers? The Policy Debate and New Data.” Prof. ’ findings provide strong support for 50/50 parenting time of young children.
The simple solution is children need both their mothers and fathers. A loving father who wants to be present in his child’s life should be allowed to do so regardless of the relationship with the mother. Unless one parent is proven unfit or guilty of abuse or violence, children deserve to retain both of their parents equally.
Currently, many family courtrooms remain on autopilot, where they continue the cookie cutter order of sole custody to the mother and every other weekend with the dad. In most cases, the goal should not be to determine which parent is the “better” parent. Rather, it should be how to enable these children to keep substantial relationships with both parents.
There is hope. More than 20 states have considered shared parenting legislation in recent years, according to the Wall Street Journal. What’s more, shared parenting is the norm in many areas outside the United States, including Sweden. Plus, research throughout the globe presented at this spring’s International Conference on Shared Parenting was overwhelmingly supportive of the two-parent model.
It’s time for parents to start thinking about what’s in the best interest of their children. It’s time for our family courts to change the norm. It’s time for Michigan’s House and Senate to pass this bill, and time Gov. Rick Snyder signs it. Sole custody of children should be the last resort, not the standard.
Linda Wright is a Michigan mother, grandmother and member of National Parents Organization.
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