This is a video of former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Minnesota, Sandy Keith (YouTube, 3/18/09). It’s a year old, but worth watching. The video was made to facilitate Judge Keith’s testimony before a committee of the Colorado Legislature. Keith was asked to testify before the committee in support of the bill, but an injury prevented him from travelling to Colorado to do so.
Keith briefly summarizes his background which includes decades in the practice of family law as well as many years as a mediator. Although he had tried countless family cases, Keith eventually gave up trying custody cases because he had become aware that the legal system ill-served children. Mediation, with its emphasis on agreement rather than animosity was more to Keith’s taste.
He recognizes that fixing our system of child custody is more important now than ever. That’s because of the sharp increase in the number of divorces over the years.
The bill he’s testifying in favor of would establish a rebuttable presumption of equally shared parenting in custody cases. The presumption could be rebutted by proof of violence, if one parent intended to move far away from the other, or if the parents agreed to another parenting arrangement.
Keith’s experience representing parents in divorce and custody cases is that most parents strongly desire a “meaningful relationship” with their children post-divorce. He recognizes shared parenting’s ability to minimize conflict which, as a mediator, he knows to be important to the long-term wellbeing of children. He says that an equally shared parenting presumption “makes a lot of sense” and “should be tried.”
He’s right. For all the reasons he cites and many more, state legislatures should give up on the system of primary custody/visitation that separates parents from their kids and has been shown to increase the rate of divorces and harm children’s outcomes. What is the defense for the existing system? What is the argument that it’s the best we can do? In all the countless books and articles I’ve read on the topic of divorce and custody, I’ve never seen a single one that claims ours is a good system. For many years, Keith has seen the workings of that system up close. It was that experience that drove him away from it because he didn’t want to be a party to a system that harms children. It drove him toward mediation for the same reason.
It’s long past time to put aside our sexist notion that only mothers can be good parents. It’s long past time that we put aside our sexist notions that fathers are uniquely dangerous to children, uniquely uninterested in children and uniquely unqualified to care for them. It’s long past time that we act on what we know – that equally shared parenting holds the potential for reducing the divorce rate, reducing conflict within marriages and improving children’s lives.
Sandy Keith knows all of that.