Judges, lawyers, psychologists, feminists, and men’s rights activists have been at loggerheads for as long as we can remember over what to do about children of divorce. Liberals want to pander to it and fund more divorce. Most conservatives say all the right words, but usually end up doing what the liberals want for lack of any real “marriage movement” leadership.
“Custody” is just another description for the tremendous problem of father-absence. The problem exists because we have been asking the wrong question all along: How do we split the children in half? The purpose of this article is to set forth the concept for a new custody model called “Time-Shift Shared Parenting” (TSSP), which addresses the major, chronic problems of divorce: such as litigiousness, dissatisfaction, and unnecessary abridgement of parental and children’s fundamental constitutional rights.
We know we can never make divorce a functional equivalent to marriage when children are involved. But we certainly have a moral, ethical, and legal duty to ensure that we never again intentionally reject good fathers or deny children half the love, guidance, discipline, and experience available to them. Every taxpayer has a stake in this. Father-absence is the single primary predictor of a tremendously expensive array of intractable social problems including teen pregnancy, teen truancy, teen violence and crime, teen drug abuse, serious child psychological problems, poor school performance, poor integration into adulthood, paternal suicide, personal bankruptcy, and child support noncompliance.
The Problem First, I will briefly itemize the primary factors why joint custody has not become the norm:
• It is unusual for parents to cooperate in divorce. Judges historically refuse to order joint custody when parents do not explicitly cooperate with each other.
• Child custody is strongly associated with maximum child-support and alimony income. Perverse incentives commonly underlay and drive serious custody disagreements.
• Custody battles arising from the existing policy framework are frankly inhumane. They are similar to dog fights. We know what most parents will do when you take away their children. They will fight for their right to be parents, knowing that there has to be a loser.
• False child abuse or domestic violence allegations made by the petitioner have become standard strategic tactics in divorce, particularly where child custody is involved. These are rarely true allegations, but are used to parlay a “fear victory”. The Answer TSSP ends nearly all the problems listed above. It creates a presumed custody order affirming the parental rights of both parents and creates a landscape infertile for predatory chessboard litigation. It meets the needs of children as closely as is possible in divorce, and removes perverse incentives to litigate, while allowing for proper handling of situations involving real child abuse or neglect. TSSP involves relatively straightforward concepts, as follows:
• When a divorce decree is issued, a primary custodian is named, with a traditional parenting time plan given to the other parent.
• An automatic custody reversal is built into the original order, naming a date on which the custody order will be reversed. The date is calculated by finding the half-way point in time between the date of the hearing and the date of emancipation of the children. For most children, the custody reversal will take place in their early teen years.
• Where children are close siblings, with age differential of four years difference or less, the dates of emancipation will be averaged such that the custody reversal for both children takes place simultaneously.
• Divorcing couples may agree to more than one custody reversal, such as every four years, so long as it is by a consent decree, and equal custody time is ordered for both parents. In cases where parents cannot agree, or a case is litigated or heard, the default order will be for one custody reversal.
• TSSP must be a mandatory policy and right of the child and parents, with only three exceptions:
1) Where a parent is found to be an unfit parent;
2) where a parent voluntarily requests to be a non-custodial parent; and
3) where both parties file for divorce with a consent decree disposing of all matters contained in the initial filing for dissolution.
• Congress must require states to enact TSSP legislation, or face stiff penalties in funding for social services and child support collections entitlements. This is a wise and deeply profound shift in federal policy. Legislation Needed To Effect This Tested Model According to Daniel Lee, President of Child’s Best Interest in Tennessee, the concept of time-shifting was introduced and debated in Tennessee shared parenting bills as early as 2003, and is pending in one today. These legislative proposals rotate primary decision-making once prior to the child reaching majority, or in long-term multi-year blocks (such as 4). Even before being passed into law, this rotating arrangement was ordered in a number of cases, which were all upheld on appeal. No problems surfaced from these rulings, and yet a later appellate opinion put a stop to it. This indicates the concept must be put into statutory law. Related Pro-Marriage Improvements of Law The success of TSSP requires refocusing of certain federal and state laws. There are two major areas of federal and state policy which drive predatory divorce. The high-level view of the changes needed is as follows:
• Traditional child support models such as the Williams (income shares) model must be abandoned. The numerical bases of these models are known to be seriously flawed, as proven by Dr. Sanford Braver in “Divorced Dads – Shattering the Myths”. The new model should base support on actual periodic income of the obligor, expressed as a percentage of actual income, and reconciled annually against federal income tax earnings. There is no rational basis for holding divorced parents to an arbitrarily high and inflexible standard of support for children in comparison to their married counterparts.
• Child abuse policy must be reformed to require at least minimal adherence to standards of “best evidence” and proof when child abuse or domestic violence is alleged.
• Federal Domestic Violence code must be rewritten entirely. The Violence Against Women Act, which is abused to fund a variety of other radical feminist enterprises including abortion and lesbian rights, must be abandoned and replaced with a gender-neutral Family Violence Act. This new act must require actual proof of abuse before penalizing an individual. What TSSP will accomplish TSSP will deliver many badly-needed social benefits for children, and a variety of very substantial social and economic benefits for taxpayers and the general public. TSSP will result in the following benefits:
• It will substantially reduce the tremendous problem of father-absence.
• We will see higher child support compliance rates. When families do
not spend all their money protecting parental rights, there will be more
money to pay child support with.
• Divorce-related violence and suicide will be reduced, perhaps substantially.
• We will see far fewer problems that children of divorce have.
This, in turn, will reduce entitlement funding needs for federal and
state social and crime enforcement programs, thus reducing deficits
and pressure to raise taxes to balance the budget.
• We will see reductions in personal bankruptcy.
• We will see improved school performance, attendance, and cooperation
by children. Therapism and use of Ritalin in schools will be reduced.
Political Analysis: An Historic Conservative Pro-Family Political Opportunity Economic conservatives must pay particular attention to the fact that it is entirely possible to fight the ongoing war on terror on a balanced budget if we simply ensure that most children of divorce can have two parents actively involved in childrearing. TSSP, along with other developing Marriage Movement concepts, will make this entirely feasible. What could divorce and welfare have to do with the 2008 elections? It could easily become the tipping point. The conventional Republican approach is this: politicians, the ACF, and other government agencies don false marriage-movement masks by pretending the “Responsible Fatherhood” slogan is just another word for “child support”.
Democrats are more than happy to ring this bell too. The rest of America knows that money is just a bunch of green stuff, and that “Responsible Fatherhood” is a social function and a necessary social creation invented a couple of millennia ago, aborted in the latter half of the last century. The fact is this: Republicans have been tragically weak on social policy, because they don’t have one (other than same-sex marriage). They simply do whatever the Democrats want to do. This is suicidal in the long term because it lets the myriad of problems falling out of father-absence grow and fester – playing into the socialist hands of Democrats. Mark my words: this is exactly what Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic party will pursue in 2008. If Republicans fail to let most Americans have what they want and need in the next three years, they might find themselves overrun by hyper-emotional social issues and a lot of angry taxpayers.
David R. Usher is Legislative Analyst for the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, Missouri Coalition