December 15, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
It’s just been four days since the Washington Post article I wrote about yesterday was published. As I said, it was picked up by at least two major-circulation dailies, the Denver Post and the Chicago Tribune. Now it’s been read by John Bolch (Marilyn Stowe Blog, 12/14/17).
My opinion of Mr. Bolch is well known to anyone who reads this blog even occasionally. Bolch almost invariably manages to combine smugness with ignorance, a bad combination in anyone about any subject. He routinely gets matters wrong about British family law and court practice. This, despite the fact that he swears he used to practice family law there. He’s claimed, for example, that recent amendments to the Children’s Act mandate some improvement in parenting time for non-custodial parents when the plain wording of the statute requires no such thing.
And when it comes to the science on shared parenting, the man hasn’t a clue, not the first idea. I assume he’s never read any of the studies because, if he has, he hasn’t absorbed the information therein. But since he’s never, as far as I’ve read, so much as referred to a single one, much less demonstrated an understanding of it, I’m forced to conclude that he hasn’t read word one of the information most important to the subject of children and divorce.
Now, the linked-to blog post is hardly vintage Bolch. In fact, he’s almost careful about what he says, as if he might possibly sense that he’s been getting things wrong long enough. About that I suppose we’ll see.
Whatever the case, Bolch read Michael Alison Chandler’s piece in the Post and was moved to comment. Naturally he does so in the misguided and uninformed way readers of his have doubtless come to cherish, sort of like a dotty old aunt who believes it’s 1938 and Neville Chamberlain is still in office.
Bolch, having read the WaPo piece, wonders if the United States – which he believes is named America – might be leading the way toward making shared parenting the norm in family courts. It’s the old notion that where the U.S. leads, the U.K. follows. My guess is that that was more a phenomenon of the immediate post WWII period than now, so maybe my simile about the dotty aunt isn’t far from the mark. I suspect that countries like England, Canada, Australia, etc. will find themselves fully capable of deciding domestic policy for themselves without our help.
Bolch uses that as his point of departure to consider the concept of shared parenting. Needless to say, he gets it wrong. Knowing little or nothing about the movement for shared parenting in the U.S., Bolch nevertheless proceeds to instruct us that, by promoting it, we fall into “a trap.” To demonstrate, he quotes not our words, not the words of any advocate for family court reform, but Chandler’s.
“The legal push for custody arrangements is in large part a result of years of lobbying by fathers’ rights advocates who say men feel alienated from their children and overburdened by child-support obligations. These groups, including the National Parents Organization, are gaining new traction, with support from across the political spectrum, as more lawmakers respond to this appeal for gender equality and, among some conservatives, the frustration of a newly emboldened constituency of men who say they are being shortchanged.”
Chandler’s words are right as far as they go. It’s but a single paragraph out of an entire article. Bolch nevertheless seizes the opportunity to blunder.
The revealing point comes at the end: men who say they are being shortchanged. The central issue on this side of the Atlantic is not the ‘rights’ of parents but the welfare of children. It is nothing to do with equalising parenting time so that one parent is not ‘shortchanged’. If equal parenting time is ordered by a court that is because that is what the court considers is in the best interests of the child.
Two things. First, if Bolch had read any of the studies of shared vs. sole/primary custody, he’d know that, as long as the parents are fit to care for the child, shared custody and children’s best interests are very much one and the same. Bolch, like so many who oppose shared parenting, want us to believe that parents’ rights and children’s welfare are antithetical. They aren’t, quite the opposite in fact. If “The central issue on this side of the Atlantic is not the ‘rights’ of parents but the welfare of children,” then British courts should be embracing shared care wholeheartedly. But they aren’t, primarily because, like Bolch, they know nothing of the science of which parenting arrangements do and which do not promote children’s well-being.
There are 52 studies in English of shared parenting, more written up in other languages. All 52 are either peer-reviewed or done by government agencies. Of those 52, 51 unambiguously support shared parenting as being the best arrangement for children when parents are fit and non-violent. The findings of the 52nd are ambiguous. In Sweden, Malin Bergstrom has conducted at least two studies of huge databases and found that, when it comes to the psychological health of children, shared care is second only to intact families, with sole or primary custody coming in a distant third. Bolch knows none of that despite regularly writing a blog on family law and the best interests of children. Amazing, but true.
Second, yes, in this country, parents do have constitutional rights. Supreme courts since the early part of the 20th century have said so. That means that, whatever else may be true, the matter of child custody is in part one of parental rights. That’s not to say that children’s welfare isn’t still the nut of the matter, but only that states aren’t free to ignore rights guaranteed to parents by the Constitution. Bolch and others seem to believe that there’s something nefarious about parental rights or those having the temerity to assert them.
Bolch leaves readers with this:
So we should carefully watch developments in America.
By all means do, if you like. If Bolch had been doing so all along, he’d know a lot more about shared parenting than he does. He’d know something about the science of the matter and he’d know that states like Arizona, Utah and Kentucky have passed family court reform in the direction of shared parenting without the world coming to an end or children consigned to the fires of hell.
As to other countries following in our footsteps, it does seem to me that the U.S. is making more progress than other English-speaking nations in the area of family court reform. So about that, I hope Bolch’s intuition is right.
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