Dale: Misrepresenting the Science

December 28, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Now we come to the nut of Bud Dale’s claims to the Family Law Advisory Committee of the Kansas Judicial Council.  In my first piece, I dealt with the fact that Dale intentionally misrepresented to the committee NPO’s report on the parenting time guidelines of Ohio family courts.  In my second, I pointed out that he relies on the current system for at least part of his income, a fact that may better explain his opposition to salutary change than any principled opposition to children having meaningful relationships with their father post-divorce.  I also noted that, although he was on the AFCC committee that promulgated guidelines for the use of scientific literature in forensic settings, Dale violated at least three of the ten guidelines in his letter to the Family Law Advisory Committee.

His letter gives a glimpse of his take on shared parenting and the science on parenting time and children’s well-being.

The facts support the best interests of the child as an individualized determination, which includes prioritization of the well-being of children when allocating the rights and responsibilities of parents.

Of course no one has ever suggested that each case shouldn’t be decided on its own facts.  What shared parenting advocates do say is that, given fit parents who are willing to do the job, something close to equal parenting time is best for kids.  In any case in which a parent isn’t fit, then clearly he/she shouldn’t have time with the child or certainly not unsupervised time.

On the other hand, Dale’s is a claim we read frequently from attorneys and others with a monetary stake in the status quo.  Their excuse is that, in some way, a presumption of shared parenting constitutes a “one-size-fits-all” approach to custody and parenting time and implicitly the existing system does not.  Both are frankly false.

A presumption of equal parenting in the law in no way prevents parents from agreeing on their own parenting plan and indeed most parents do that anyway.  It also doesn’t prevent a judge from ordering something different for parents who are child abusers, otherwise unfit, live far apart, etc.

Meanwhile, what we find when we analyze the actual orders issued by family courts is an astonishing similarity among them.  The “cookie cutter” approach finds father after father consigned to four days per month plus a few hours during the week, i.e. far less than what’s best for kids according to the literature.  That’s Bud Dale’s idea of “individualized determination” of parenting time.  It’s anything but.

Finally, several studies of the attitudes of family court judges reveal that, on average, they’re significantly biased in favor of mothers and against fathers.  Shared parenting laws are, among other things, efforts to counteract what family lawyers see every day and what some family court judges admit to be true – that mothers tend to get a better deal in divorce cases than do fathers.  Again, Dale’s “individualized determination” is made all too often by a judge who’s predisposed to rule in favor of Mom.  It’s therefore not “individualized” at all.

Dale moves on.

[The data] support what we already know – healthier parents lead to healthier children and healthier parents self-select joint custody arrangements.

It’s the old chestnut that the only thing pro-shared parenting studies demonstrate is that good parents naturally gravitate toward shared parenting, so all the studies measure is children who’d receive high-quality parenting anyway. That of course has been debunked many times by the scientific literature on parenting time and child well-being.

So for example, in 2014 Prof. Linda Nielsen reviewed 40 different studies and found that the children of parents who were far from ideal fared better in shared parenting than in sole parenting arrangements.

In yet another study with small samples, high-conflict parents who had volunteered for free counseling to resolve their co-parenting issues reported, at the end of 1 year, the 13 shared children were better off in regard to stress, anxiety, behavioral problems, and adjustment than the 26 sole residence children.

Notably, the children whose parents needed the most intensive counseling at the outset to make the shared parenting work ended up faring as well as the children whose parents initially got along best.


Importantly, after controlling for their parents’ incomes and educations, the shared children were not significantly different from the intact family children in regard to having stress-related health problems and feeling comfortable talking to their parents about things that bothered them (Carlsund et al., 2012)…

Importantly, this study took account of parental conflict, socioeconomic status, and the quality of the parent-child relationship. 

In short, Dale has it wrong again.

At this point, I’d like to ask Bud Dale one question: Given that you criticize the existing scientific literature that supports shared parenting, will you kindly provide us a list of citations to studies that find sole parenting to achieve better outcomes than shared parenting, making sure that each of the studies you list meets the demands of methodological rigor that you make of the pro-shared parenting work?

I won’t hold my breath. 

Last, a reader has sent along a blog that Dale posted back in 2010.  In it he includes this claim:

My position [in an amicus curiae brief] was that the children deserved both parents when both were able and willing to support them.

Dale’s statement leads inexorably to the question “when did he lose his support for children deserving both parents?”  That’s another one I’d like Dale to answer.  But again, I won’t hold my breath.

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