Anyone who has gone through a divorce or child custody case knows there are many elements of the family law system that just do not seem to make much sense.
Although the intent behind many of the laws is good, a lot of them tend to do more harm than good and it is families who suffer.
Here are four family law statutes that are counterproductive.
Primary Custody Arrangements
Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence supporting shared parenting’s benefits, critics remain and the country’s child custody laws have slowly lagged behind. According to a Shared Parenting Report Card from the National Parents Organization, states by and large do a very poor job of promoting shared parenting following divorce or separation.
Family courts are structured in a way that pits the divorcing parties against each other. Many judges make the mistaken assumption that children are better off spending the majority of their time with a primary parent, typically the mother, while the other parent, usually the dad, is relegated to a secondary role. This is just one of many outdated stereotypes that pervade the family court system.
Fortunately, even though progress has been frustratingly slow, an increasing number of states are pushing to revise their custody laws and the shared-parenting movement is continuing to gain momentum.
Overemphasis Of Child Support Collection
How could a system place too much emphasis on getting money to divorced mothers and their kids? Well, it comes down to the difference between being unwilling to pay and being unable to pay.
Twenty-nine percent of parents in the child support system live below the federal poverty line, and it is frighteningly easy for low-income parents to fall behind on payments and suddenly be trapped in a never-ending cycle of debt.
This further drives a wedge between families because it is common for parents who do not receive their child support payments to try to withhold visitation from the other.
Many of these poor parents who miss their payments are unfairly labeled as deadbeats, but research has thoroughly debunked this stereotype. According to a U.S. General Accounting Office Report, 66 percent of all child support not paid by non-custodial fathers is due to an inability to pay.
A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that many low-income fathers who missed their child support payments tried to find other ways to contribute to their children’s upbringing.
Hopefully, proposed changes to the child support statutes will bring some relief to low-income parents unable to make payments.
Divorce Waiting Periods
In 1970, California became the first state to pass a no-fault divorce law, meaning a spouse can file for divorce without placing blame for the marital breakdown on the other spouse’s shoulders.
By now, all states offer some version of no-fault divorce, although there has been a recent push my lawmakers in some states to either make the divorce process more difficult, or to do away with no-fault divorce.
Even though no-fault divorce options exist in every state, some states still have lengthy waiting periods before couples can divorce.
The intent in making divorce more difficult to obtain is good. Many see it as a way to strengthen families and help children by giving spouses time to work out their differences and reconcile rather than rushing into a breakup they later regret.
However, this often does more harm than good.
Couples should think long and hard about all the ramifications of divorce and it should only be considered a final option after all efforts to save the marriage have been exhausted. But lengthy waiting periods leave many spouses trapped in a failed relationship and prevents them from moving on with their lives.
Another goal of encouraging reconciliation is to eliminate the negative effect divorce has on kids. Although research shows divorce can lead to many negative outcomes for children, it’s not necessarily the event of divorce that causes those effects.
In fact, parents attempting to stay together just for the sake of their children often create a stressful environment and some researchers argue it is actually the conflict associated with divorce that harms kids.
Fortunately, the majority of states have gone away with permanent alimony, meaning the payor’s payments only end upon death of one of the parties of the divorce. But it is still alive and well in several states, including Florida, which failed to modernize its alimony laws last year.
The purpose of alimony is rehabilitative in that it supports the spouse making less money for a length of time so they are able to gain the skills and education needed to become financially independent.
However, permanent alimony, which cannot be modified, can be financially crippling.
In the days when women rarely worked outside of the home, it was necessary for alimony to be unending, but that is no longer the case as millions of women have joined the workforce.