September 23, 2014
By Rita Fuerst Adams, National Executive Director, National Parents Organization
A rival statistic to the nation’s divorce rate shakes up the conversation on societal expectations that mom shoulder sole responsibility for child rearing while dad serves as breadwinner. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 40 percent of children born in the United States are born to unmarried parents.
This means that outside of divorce, a significant portion of our nation’s children enter child custody courts by default, which is where the problem becomes worse for today’s modern families. Contrary to common belief, when child custody cases turn ugly, judges rarely equally divide parenting. The old-fashioned model from the ‘50s where mom receives custody and dad gets “visitation” reigns more than 90 percent of the time.
These statistics remind me that our moms need not feel forced into the role of June Cleaver any more than dad should accept his role as Ward. Despite our family courts insistence of being a last hideout to gender inequality, our society has changed and moreover research shows that shared parenting – often defined as equal joint and physical custody – is best for children and also benefits mothers in many ways, including:
Moms get paid. Numerous studies show that child support compliancy rates are significantly higher in instances of shared parenting compared to sole custody arrangements. The statistics make sense. If a parent has the opportunity to be fully engaged in a child’s life, the parent naturally becomes more invested – financially and otherwise – in the child.
Moms succeed professionally. When moms and dads share parenting time, moms have equal time to pursue their careers. Unfortunately, the current model puts mom in a position of having sole custody 90 percent of the time, which only enables dad to continue to be the primary bread winner.
Fewer Fights. Sharing diminishes hostility, and child custody cases are no exception to this universal truth. Parental equality leads to fewer disputes mostly because it removes resentment about unequal roles and responsibilities. It puts both parents on equal footing from the start, which has tremendously positive impacts on not only the parents, but most importantly, the children.
Break gender role cycle for your children. If children watch mothers find success both at work and at home and see fathers raise children, instead of viewing dads as just someone who cuts checks and occasionally babysits, our sons and daughters will believe that they too can fill similar roles when they grow up.
Gender equality. In an age where calls for equality grow louder with each day, our nation’s family courts continue to function as one of gender inequality’s last hideouts. From a human rights perspective, this is intolerable, especially considering the impact the court’s decisions have not only on our mothers and daughters, but on our children who will grow to inherit the roles forced on them by the family courts.
Healthier children. I saved the most impactful and important reason for last. Study after study, statistic after statistic, research points to the same conclusion: If both parents are fit, shared parenting is in the best interest of a child in cases of divorce or separation. Federal statistics demonstrate this fact by showing that children raised by single parents account for:
- 63% of teen suicides
- 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions
- 71% of high school drop-outs
- 75% of children in chemical abuse centers
- 85% of those in prison
- 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders
- 90% of homeless and runaway children
Further, studies released earlier this year, including a report by prominent psychologist (and founding author of the Huffington Post’s Divorce section) Dr. Richard Warshak, support shared parenting. The Warshak paper, titled “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report,” was published by the American Psychological Association, endorsed by 110 child development experts and concluded that “shared parenting should be the norm for parenting plans for children of all ages, including very young children.” Clearly, children thrive with shared parenting, and isn’t a happy, healthy child what every mom wants?