There are far too many depressing stories about the challenges fathers face after divorce.
We constantly hear reports of paternity fraud, child support mishaps, and even deadly tragedies that are at least partially the result of a family court system that drives dads to the point of desperation. The stereotypes that still pervade family courts certainly make it seem as though the system is predisposed against fathers.
Life can certainly be tough for divorced dads, but it’s important to take a step back and realize that, at a macro-level, things are trending in the right direction. The shared parenting movement has gained considerable steam over the past few years and Kentucky recently became the latest state to revise its child custody statutes to create a more level playing field.
The state recently passed HB 492, setting the presumption of joint custody and equal parenting time for temporary child custody orders, which are the starting point for separating families. From now on, children will see both their parents equally in the time between when the temporary order is issued and when permanent custody is determined. (There are hopes that the state will also adjust its permanent custody statutes to also include shared parenting.) This will not apply to cases in which the child could face abuse or neglect, in which case the judge must state in writing why unequal parenting time was ordered.
Previously, the court picked “primary custody,” granting one parent custody while allowing shorter visits for the other parent. Too often, these arrangements set a precedent and provide a template for when permanent custody was determined.
The decision in Kentucky should be celebrated as a clear sign of progress, and shared parenting advocates in other states should pay close attention to how the bill was passed.
Matt Hale, Kentucky Chairman of the National Parents Organization, took up the shared parenting cause four years ago. According to the NPO blog, Hale repeatedly showed up at Senator John Schickel’s Town Hall meetings and took the floor to talk about the benefits of shared parenting and raise the possibility of passing a shared parenting bill.
NPO National Board of Directors member Robert Franklin wrote that Hale attempted to connect and educate local officials rather than engage in publicity stunts.
“Some people at those meetings weren’t in favor of shared parenting or had questions about it,” Franklin said. “Matt’s ability to answer those questions made it clear to Senator Schickel that shared parenting is truly the best arrangement for both kids and parents, so, when it came time to vote on a shared parenting bill, he was prepared to do so.”
It’s easy to get discouraged when so many forces seem to work against fathers. Despite mountains of evidence showing that equal parenting time after divorce is what’s best for families, shared parenting critics persist and legislation is tough to pass.
However, Hale’s efforts prove that it is entirely possible for anyone to enact meaningful change by engaging at the local level.
“The fact is that everyone promoting shared parenting legislation can do what Matt did,” Franklin wrote. “You can find your state representative or senator, go to their website, find out where and when they’re holding Town Hall meetings and go prepared.”
Do your homework
The reason Hale’s strategy worked is because he prepared thoroughly and came armed with facts. So before you attend any meetings or make any calls, study up.
There are a plethora of shared parenting articles on Dads Divorce, and on our sister site Men’s Divorce and sponsor site Cordell & Cordell, that explain in detail why children need access to both of their parents after a divorce.
Research shows children who have access to both parents are healthier emotionally, behaviorally, and socially, and perform better academically. Shared parenting can also help mitigate some of the negative consequences divorce can have for children such as reducing the risk of drug use, premarital sex, and dropping out of school.
Keep in mind that it took four years for the law to pass in Kentucky, and even after the passage of this bill there is still work to be done on the state’s permanent custody orders.
Hale’s efforts in Kentucky show what’s possible. Now it’s up to other shared parenting advocates across the country to follow his lead.