As Father’s Day approached last week, there was an increasing number of fires to put out. Here’s yet another article that ever so patiently explains why equally shared parenting just can’t work (National Post, 6/16/10).
The writer isn’t as fact-challenged, misandric or just downright silly as a lot of the anti-dad crowd are, but she has her moments. She’s Canadian and so the object of her attack is MP Maurice Velacotte’s Private Bill 422 that would establish a presumption of equally shared parenting after divorce. In what is becoming a predictable pattern, the writer, Tasha Kheiriddin, informs her readers that it would “mandate” shared parenting. Maybe she should read the bill. A presumption is not a mandate. It’s something a judge must do only if the presumption isn’t rebutted by one side or the other.
She also says that “other jurisdictions are questioning this model” of shared parenting, and refers to Australia. That might make readers think that equally shared parenting has actually been tried and proved unworkable, unfair or something. Of course that’s not true. Australia’s law has been in effect for a little over three years now and the recent analysis of its effects revealed that the amendments in fact changed little about what judges actually do in custody matters. And beyond that very, very limited dataset, there’s nothing. Kheiriddin would have us believe that equally shared parenting is an idea that’s been tried and failed. Ha.
Then she tries the old ruse that equally shared parenting would mean that small children would be “shuttled back and forth” between parents. Well, in the current system that happens too, so why does it all of a sudden become a problem when dads might actually benefit? She doesn’t explain. Nor does she explain why parents can’t establish a home for the child and “shuttle” themselves. A lot of parents are doing that, but you’d never know it by Kheiriddin. Nor does she explain why equal parenting can’t mean a week with dad/a week with mom or a month with dad/a month with mom, or whatever. If her concern is shuttling back and forth, parents can solve that easily enough.
And of course she tells us that in Australia, there were reports of violence towards children after the 2006 amendments went into effect. I suppose she seriously wants readers to believe that violence toward children didn’t happen beforehand, or even that mothers don’t hurt their children. As I never tire of pointing out, mothers do far more in the way of abuse and neglect of children than do fathers, so the old “dads are violent” dodge won’t work.
What’s interesting about Kheiriddin’s piece is not the above. That’s pretty much boilerplate anti-dad rhetoric. (There must be a thick pad of forms somewhere. You can just tear one off, fill in the blanks, send it to an editor and have it published.) No, what’s interesting is her description of her own arrangement with her daughter’s father.
The two seem to be unmarried, and guess what – she keeps their daughter pretty much full time. So, since her main arguments against shared parenting are that “shuttling” would be too upsetting to the child, I wonder how she’d have reacted if her boyfriend had said something like “I agree with you that, in the early years, children need stability, so I’ll be the main parent for, say, three years and then we’ll revisit the situation.” In other words, while plumping for single parenting, it never seems to have occurred to her that that single parent might be anyone but her.
Nor did it seem to occur to her that what she and her boyfriend are doing (he sees the child only occasionally, never alone and never overnight) would have profound effects on his rights in family court were she to seek a custody order. What he’s apparently agreed to in all good faith could in fact seriously damage his future ability to be a parent to his child. Any lawyer with a pulse could argue to a judge that he’d abandoned his child.
That brings us to the real crux of the matter. As Kheiriddin describes it, she and her partner have an amicable agreement. Presumably, when their daughter gets older, the dad will take on more parenting duties and the mom and dad will move peacefully into a new mode of agreed-upon parenting and all will be peaches and cream. I hope so, for everyone’s sake.
Of course if everyone behaved so reasonably and nicely with each other, we wouldn’t need family law at all, but they don’t, and we do. That’s the thing with the law; it attempts to deal with people in situations that have gone wrong and in which the parties can’t be trusted to do the right thing. Stated another way, from a cynical attorney’s point of view, Kheiriddin isn’t being reasonable in her parenting arrangement, she’s being self-interested. She’s setting up her partner and he’s a chump for letting her.
Again, I hope that’s not true, but a few angry words could turn an amicable arrangement into open warfare in the blink of an eye. It happens all the time.
What Kheiriddin does in her article is to compare a legal system designed to deal with problem divorces with her own peaceful, friendly agreement with her partner. It’s a false comparison.
If she wants to compare something, she should compare our current system of primary custody/visitation with shared parenting. If she’d done that in the first place, she’d have quickly seen that children get shuttled now just as much as they would in an equal arrangement. But with our current system, children tend to lose one parent altogether over time with the by-now-well-known detriments to their wellbeing.
If she doesn’t like comparing legal systems and prefers individual cases, she could compare an equally shared arrangement with some ghastly parental alienation situation that exists under the current system. I can send her a boatload of those. She calls her piece “Sometimes Unequal Works,” and she’s right; sometimes it does. But making public policy on the basis of what “sometimes works” isn’t smart. It’s what we have now, so how’s that working out?
Equally shared parenting means just that – equal time, equal responsibilities. Amicable parents can arrange that any way they want, and smart ones will do so in a way that minimizes child upset. Parents who are at each others’ throats will still be a problem for their children, for each other, for judges, lawyers, etc. No law will solve their problems for them. But in the meantime, a presumption of equally shared parenting will promote the healthy idea that children need both parents, even after divorce. And that, after all is what it’s designed to do. No one yet has told us why that’s a bad idea.