For Our Children

Studies show that the best environment for children of divorce is one in which conflict is at a minimum. Unfortunately our family courts are designed to do the very opposite–foster conflict. In an ideal situation 50/50 custody would be the default with very few exceptions. Those situations being when a parent does not want their portion of the parenting time, and those with proven substance abuse/domestic violence histories. The key word being proven; too often unsubstantiated claims are enough to render someone guilty in the eyes of the law. Does that mean that there will possibly be an occasional child abuse/DV case that slips through the cracks? Possibly there might. But this country was not founded on the principle that we should strip away rights from the many because of the actions of the few. While the last several decades have seen a decrease in the burden of proof required for domestic abuse cases to move forward, the unfortunate consequence is that it likely destroys far more lives indirectly, compared to the relatively small number of victims it helps. Domestic abuse is a terrible thing that should be treated with the greatest seriousness, but it cannot be at the expense of innocent victims having their lives ruined when an abuser uses the same legislation against their intended victim.

The Science

While in today’s society even basic science is a source of debate, the science of shared parenting is fairly straightforward. In the majority of states where shared parenting is not the de facto standard, the accepted norm is to award custody time in a similar fashion as to what was happening prior to the divorce. While seemingly fair, it ignores the fact that families are a unit where a division of labor takes place that allows the family to operate as efficiently as possible (i.e. the high earner spends more time working) for the given situation. When that situation changes to assume that these roles should continue and remain static ignores the very fact that the situation has indeed changed.

“The approximation rule represents a return to a 19th-century mechanistic view of the universe. It assumes that a complex system—a family—can be understood by breaking it down into discrete measurable units without regard for the transactions and balance among the units.406 It reduces the intricate rhythms of a family’s life together to only those interactions that can be measured with a stopwatch. In so doing, it no more captures the essence of the family than the number of words and lines convey the meaning, value, and essence of a poem.”

The converse to this faulted view of parenting time is shared parenting. Not just joint legal custody, but equal physical custody. On this the science is abundantly clear. Children not exposed to conflict in divorce have lower rates of their own problems in nearly every way–better grades, less disciplinary issues, less drug use etc…. Dr. Linda Nielsen’s work in cataloging some of this research makes it abundantly clear. So how do we lower the level of conflict? While you cannot take the conflict out of divorce entirely, the law should be about reducing it, not fostering it. Our current system rewards the parent who can make the loudest accusation, rewrite the parenting history most efficiently, and lie most effectively. When the goal becomes to convince all those in authority to shape the next twenty years of your financial well being by increasing child support, the tool you have to use is to create as much conflict as possible to make shared parenting seem impossible. It is hard to fault the other parent entirely. They may be looking at a significant drop in lifestyle as a result of the divorce. Nobody wants that. But it should not be about what that parent wants but what is best for our children. Greed should not outweigh our children’s future.

But yet, fully knowing all of the science behind this, it seems our family courts and the professionals involved have sold out our children’s future.