There is growing support for a “Shared Parenting” movement. Its proponents want to enact laws which would force parents to share equal custody. Is this the answer to all future custody battles? And is this what’s best for families and kids?
It is this author’s opinion that spending close to equal time with both parents can be beneficial for children in many divorced families. In fact, until my clients tell me differently, I assume that the parenting schedule will be alternating weeks with each parent. But the sad truth is that a minority of families request this arrangement.
Some parents don’t want equal time.
Family dynamics vary, but females in general are more likely to expect a larger share of parenting time. According to a recent Pew Study, in spite of workplace advancement for women, they are still doing the lion’s share of childcare and housework while home. Although men are more involved in childcare than ever before, there are still many men who aren’t as inclined as their wives to care for, feed, bathe, and clean up after the little ones. Thankfully this trend is changing. I’ve had more than one client who was a stay-at-home dad, and a handful of couples who chose an alternating week parenting plan. However, a majority of couples opt for the “standard” (antiquated) parenting schedule of every other weekend with dad. How would these parents be affected by an equal custody law? Dad would be forced to take an equally active role in childcare. While this may be a positive change for some, others may be resentful and bitter about being thrust into a role they had never intended. If Dad already has a new love interest, this may put the children in an uncomfortable situation as well.
Some parents can’t commit to a school zone.
Some people have trouble committing to a 2 year cell phone plan. It’s no wonder many parents aren’t willing to commit to living in the same school district until their children graduate from high school. But unless parents can agree to this arrangement, an equal amount of time with each parent is rarely possible. What if one parent gets a job out of the area? What if a parent wants to remarry, but their prospective spouse lives in a school district that she can’t leave because her ex-husband lives in that district, and he’s guaranteed equal time as well? Many people wouldn’t have the opportunity to improve their lives with a new job and a fresh start if they weren’t able to relocate.
Some parents are victims.
In the case of neglect or abuse, the shared parenting laws would be trumped by what is in the best interest of the children. In cases where the perpetrator has a criminal record, the best interest of the children is obvious. But what about the bad behavior that’s not reported? A dozen different studies yield a dozen different statistics, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that more domestic violence goes unreported to law enforcement than reported. The victim lives in fear of the perpetrator, and most likely will not stand up to the courts to prove the other parent’s offenses. Were equal parenting time the norm, these kids would be forced to live with an unfit parent half of the time. I would venture to say that the abusive parent may be less likely to seek equal custody of the children with current laws, resulting in less time with the children. Not a perfect situation, but better than the alternative.
Are the courts ready for Shared Parenting?
A newly elected judge called one client couple of mine into a hearing despite the couple being in complete agreement. The reason? The couple had set forth a 50% 50% parenting plan. This judge wanted to know why they chose that arrangement, and how they were going to make it work. The judge explained that when custody is split equally between two parents versus the children spending a majority of time at one house, the children can feel like they don’t have a place to call their own. The couple appreciated this advice and are on the lookout for these signs from their kids.
For the couples that do choose equal parenting time – I applaud you.
Equal parenting takes dedication to children, commitment to amicability with your co-parent, and personal sacrifice of our own desires for the betterment of the family. I wish more divorcing families would choose your path. You are exceptional. But should your choice be the rule for everyone? I’m not convinced we’re ready for that.
CC photo courtesy of Vanja Gavrić via Flickr