By Kristen Paasch
I became a new mom last summer, and what a wonderful blessing my new son has been to my family. As I experience the joys and challenges of parenthood, it is hard to imagine my husband not being able to experience the same. Children need both parents. As I have had my own son, I find myself much more supportive of shared parenting and more frustrated with what my husband and I have endured in the custody battle over my stepson, which has spanned three states.
Importantly though, as a society, we must recognize that women and men together are indispensable partners to our country’s most valuable treasure: our children. We need to celebrate both mothers and fathers as often as possible.
Still, in this age of gender role convergence, people are often surprised to learn just how often courts favor one parent over the other in instances of divorce or separation. Astonishingly, sole custody is awarded to one parent about 83 percent of the time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, thus creating a confrontational dynamic of winner vs. loser/visitor. Thrusting parents into a winner-take-all arena only funds bitter custody battles that benefit the legal community yet have traumatic, corrosive and long-lasting effects on children, parents and families.
Instead, it’s time our nation’s family courts update their laws to support shared parenting – where children spend as close to equal time as possible with each parent after divorce or separation. The important emphasis here is “as possible” since an exact 50/50 split is not mandated in every single situation. Shared parenting is a collaborative, achievable and safe alternative that is actively supported by both women and men – as well as published by the American Psychological Association, the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, and the Association of Family & Conciliation Courts. All of these professional organizations, and more, have released empirical, peer-reviewed studies in the last one to two years that clearly support shared parenting for children of all ages in the vast majority of divorced and separated families.
The problem is acute. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. One-third of all children in the United States are affected by divorce. But despite overwhelming evidence of its destructive effects, more than 80 percent of children nationally whose parents are divorced live with one parent, by court order. Talk about not changing with the times …
And if that weren’t enough, the rates of teen suicide, delinquency, imprisonment, substance abuse and high-school dropouts are far higher in children raised in single-parent homes.
So we know children need both parents. They want both parents. The only thing that remains to happen is for Virginia and other states’ family courts to leave the 1950s behind and catch up with the times by making shared custody the norm. This is not hard – and in fact, many states like Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah, Alaska, Arizona and Missouri have all led the way in this national movement. It is time all states joined the ranks of those truly doing what is in the best interest of children. Together, we can build a supportive culture to stand for children and their best interests and eliminate bias throughout the family court system.
Happy Mother’s Day to all on May 14!
Kristen Paasch is a member of National Parents Organization and lives in Virginia.