May 24, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
As Joan Kelly has pointed out, the current child custody statutes were written in the absence of evidence of how well they promoted children’s well-being. The evidence that is now available is compelling that failure to enact presumptions of equal parenting time risks unnecessary harm to children’s emotional security with their parents, and consequently unnecessary harm to public health in the form of long-term stress-related mental and physical health problems among children of divorce.
That’s how Dr. William Fabricius closes his latest paper on the science underpinning equal parenting and children’s well-being. It’s about as succinct and powerful an endorsement of equal parenting as I’ve ever seen. It captures the historical context of present-day law, i.e. laws on child custody were written by lawmakers who had no access to scientific evidence about how the laws they passed might influence the very people they were supposedly designed to serve – children.
It points out that we now have that scientific evidence and that we should use it, a point I’ve made countless times myself. After all, when the weight of empirical evidence is so great on one side of an issue, why not make policy based on it?
It states that the failure to align law with science poses a risk to children’s well-being.
It states that damaging children’s emotional well-being constitutes a public-health risk due to the long- and short-term impacts the damage to children’s emotional well-being has. We as a society end up trying to pick up the pieces, to try to make right what family courts made wrong. We do that in countless, often unproductive ways. We do that with increasingly large prison capacity, drug and alcohol abuse programs, educational interventions, mental health interventions and the like.
Unstated by Fabricius, but nevertheless true and important is the amount of public money we spend every year on all those attempts to cure the symptoms of a disease that began in divorce court.
Fabricius’ paper, entitled “Equal Parenting Time: The Case for a Legal Presumption,” touches all the bases, but also does more. It responds to the claim that, after all, the science on shared parenting is merely correlational and so we can’t say that shared parenting causes improved child welfare over sole or primary parenting.
Of course the studies deal only in correlations for the good and sufficient reason that they can’t do otherwise. Scientific evidence doesn’t permit the type of study that could draw the causal connection between parenting arrangements and children’s welfare. But the argument is still nothing more than a vain hope on the part of anti-dad advocates.
I’ve argued many times before that (a) fatherlessness tends strongly to result in bad outcomes for kids and (b) divorce courts are a prime source of fatherlessness. Those are known facts. Further, (c) the effects of fatherlessness on kids cross all demographic boundaries of race, class, family income, educational level, religion and geographic area. So, given (c), why can we not infer causation between family courts’ sidelining of fathers and poorer outcomes for kids. Stated another way, once we’ve eliminated the usual variables associated with poorer emotional, behavioral, educational and other outcomes, what’s left? What’s left is fatherlessness as the common denominator. So why can’t we infer a causal relationship between fatherlessness and poorer children’s welfare?
Such is the reasoning of a non-scientist. I’ll discuss Fabricius’ approach to causation tomorrow.