I’d like to recognize the millions of fathers who are fighting for shared parenting – the right to continue to be active and loving dads after separating or divorce. It is not just about your “rights,” although there is no reason a good father should not have the same rights as a good mother. It is also about what is best for your children, since over 50 research studies from numerous countries show that children with shared parenting on average have much better lives than the millions of children in the sole custody of one parent.
U.S. Census data shows our family courts still favor sole custody to mom more than 80 percent of the time, despite the similarity of gender roles in modern couples. So the battle for legal equality in family court feels like a frustrating and uphill battle. But dads, don’t give up. For the sake of one-third of our nation’s children (that’s how many kids are now affected by child custody issues), I encourage you to keep up this good fight – and here are five of the many reasons why.
- Shared parenting advocates are slowly winning. Although shared parenting remains uncommon in the United States, it is increasing steadily. Arizona, Alaska, Utah and Wisconsin already have good-enough laws. In just the last six months, Missouri enacted a shared parenting bill, and the Kentucky legislature unanimously passed a bill mandating shared parenting in temporary orders. The Florida legislature passed a shared parenting bill last year by large margins, and only Governor Rick Scott’s last-minute veto under pressure from lobbyists for the bar association prevented passage into law. Plus, about 25 U.S. states have proposed laws in recent years to implement it, according to The Wall Street Journal. Overseas, shared parenting has been the norm in Sweden and Australia for years, and research presented last month at the 2017 International Conference on Shared Parenting in Boston showed it is working well.
- Scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that shared parenting — a flexible arrangement where children spend as close to equal time with each parent as possible — is in the best interest of most children when their parents split. Last month, more than 35 child development experts representing more than 18 countries and 40 years of research updated these findings during the conference in Boston. Previous findings included:
- In a 150,000-person study published in The Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, researchers concluded that shared parenting is in the best interest of children’s health because the arrangement lowers their stress levels.
- 32 family law experts in the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts concluded, “Children’s best interests are furthered by parenting plans that provide for continuing and shared parenting relationships that are safe, secure, and developmentally responsive and that also avoid a template calling for a specific division of time imposed on all families.”
- In a social science and parenting consensus report, 110 child development experts found that “… shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children.” The report is in legislative deliberations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and many other countries.
- The general public overwhelmingly believes that shared parenting should be the usual outcome if both parents are fit and there’s been no domestic violence.In fact, this very question went before 700,000 voters in Massachusetts, and 86 percent voted in favor of shared parenting. Similar findings have been found in scientific studies and professional surveys in Arizona and Maryland.
- Sole custody more often has devastating impacts on children.Consider that, according to federal statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Census Bureau, children raised by single parents account for:
63 percent of teen suicides;
70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions;
71 percent of high school dropouts;
75 percent of children in chemical abuse centers;
85 percent of those in prison;
85 percent of children who exhibit behavioral disorders; and
90 percent of homeless and runaway children.
- Shared parenting leads to fewer fights and lower costs.In most states, parents enter child custody battles on unequal footing, leading to costly and contentious court fights. But with shared parenting, the conversation begins with parents as equals, which means less conflict and lower legal fees. In fact, the International Council on Shared Parenting recently concluded that first-time domestic violence decreases when there is shared parenting. Shared parenting is a more harmonious way to live, which benefits children. And they also benefit from avoiding the enormous legal fees incurred in custody battles — money that can instead be used for them.
So dads, resolve to continue to fight for shared parenting reforms in your state, taking satisfaction in knowing that this is one of the most powerful things you can do as a man for your children and America’s children, and that we are slowly winning this battle.
Dr. Holstein is Founder and Chair of the Board of National Parents Organization. He was appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts to the Massachusetts Working Group on Child-Centered Family Law, and he was previously appointed by a Massachusetts Chief Justice to a task force charged with reviewing and revising the state’s child support guidelines. A graduate of Harvard College, Holstein also earned a Master’s degree in psychology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His medical degree is from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he later served on the faculty as a teacher and researcher.