Over the last few years, there has been a growing groundswell of support to make shared parenting the presumption in child custody cases.
Backed by numerous studies, supporters have pushed for revisions to family law statutes so that children of divorce are given equal access to each parent. Historically, courts have utilized a sole custody model in which one parent is awarded primary custody while the other is essentially sidelined as a secondary parent and only granted visitation or limited time with the children.
Because of outdated gender stereotypes that pervade the family court system to this day, the parent most often drawing the short end of the stick has typically been dads.
Slowly but surely, the status quo is changing. Missouri is considering two bills that embrace parental equality to build off the momentum it garnered last year in passing a pair of shared parenting laws. Kentucky also recently unanimously passed a law that establishes a presumption of shared parenting and equal parenting time in temporary orders.
The Show-Me and Bluegrass states are not alone as bills across the country are being proposed that would benefit children and families in the event of divorce.
Critics persist, ensuring that progress only comes in incremental chunks, but it is becoming increasingly clear they’re fighting a losing battle. Bit by bit, fathers are gaining more rights in the family court system.
Here are three major reasons why shared parenting is great for families.
Shared parenting is best for kids
Study after study shows that children are better off when they have access to both parents after divorce.
The amount of social science research supporting shared parenting is so staggering that it’s amazing family courts have been so slow to catch up.
Perhaps part of this disconnect is due to a lack of effective communication between the researchers and lawmakers.
“One step we need to take is to get this research out there to the policy makers, the legislators who are making custody laws, the custody evaluators, the mediators,” said Wake Forest Professor of Educational and Adolescent Psychology Linda Nielsen, who conducted a review of 45 shared parenting studies.
“Everyone who is involved in child custody decisions need to at least be aware of what the research is saying.”
Shared parenting minimizes conflict
Part of the reason shared parenting is so beneficial for children is that it often serves to lessen conflict between parents. Although divorce is linked to a number of negative outcomes for kids, some research suggests it is actually the amount of parental conflict they are exposed to that leads to those bad outcomes rather than the specific event of divorce.
The current system tends to pit parents against one another in a battle to see who gets custody. Even if spouses start off on amicable terms, this process often cultivates hostility by the time the final custody determination is made. It’s a system that chooses winners and losers that leaves the entire family worse off.
When the court puts each parent on equal footing, there is less room for disagreements and they are more likely to form a healthy co-parenting relationship.
Shared parenting sends the right message about fatherhood
Stop and consider the message sent when family courts treat parents unequally. When a judge grants a mother more parenting time without justification, the court is basically saying moms play a more important role than fathers when it comes to raising kids.
That is a harmful message that kids could hold onto for years, which in turn affects their own attitudes toward parenting as they mature into adults.
Fatherlessness is often described as an epidemic in the United States with more than 20 million children living in a home without the physical presence of a dad. This is a serious crisis that is tough to combat when family courts consistently treat fathers like they are expendable.
Fortunately, modern dads are doing a better job of getting involved in their kids’ lives than ever before. Today’s fathers are more active and emotionally involved in parenting than previous generations and research is teaching us how much of a positive impact that can have on children as they mature.