Michigan: Shared Parenting Opponents Wrong on the Law, Wrong on the Science

November 16, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

If there’s a shared parenting bill before a state legislature, there must be at least one family lawyer ready and willing to misrepresent it to whoever will listen. And sure enough, there’s a strong shared parenting bill with lots of support in the Michigan Legislature and divorce attorney John Schaefer to oppose it on specious grounds (Detroit News, 11/13/17).

As seems to be invariably the case when family lawyers oppose a shared parenting bill, there are two possibilities – either Schaefer has read HB 4691 or he hasn’t. If he hasn’t, he should have, because writing an op-ed on a subject about which one is ignorant does a disservice to readers. If he has read the bill, he’s intentionally misrepresenting it, an even more serious indictment of him and his article.

Schaefer’s objections deviate not a whit from those raised by other lawyers and, like theirs, are without merit.  

[The bill] presupposes that every child has two such adults in their lives; that both parents are eager, willing and able — mentally, practically and emotionally – to provide a loving home for their children.

By “such adults,” Schaefer means “two loving parents dedicated to their children’s upbringing and well-being.” In short, according to Schaefer, we should reject HB 4691 because, in the “real world,” not all parents fit that description, but would the bill do what Schaefer claims? Not even close.

In fact, the bill maintains the “best interests of the child” as the standard in custody cases and provides many instances in which a judge may deviate from the 200/165-day formula in the bill. As just a few examples, “best interests” are defined to include actively contributing to the child’s education, providing food, clothing and other necessities of life, a history of ongoing contact with the child, providing age-appropriate emotional and social development, etc. If a parent hasn’t done those things, he/she can be ruled to have not acted in the child’s best interests and therefore receive less parenting time.

Further, if a parent has misbehaved in the past, he/she can be denied equal parenting. Examples of that include materially compromising the stability of the home or the health or well-being of the child. Criminal activity or drug abuse can also deny a parent equal parenting.

And of course parts of the existing law are maintained such as exceptions to shared parenting due to child abuse or domestic violence.

So Schaefer’s pretense that, if a parent is a bad actor, dangerous to the other parent or the child, is unfit, etc., he/she still gets at least 165 days of parenting time is simply false. Judges have plenty of leeway to deal with truly deficient parents. Presumably Schaefer knows this.

Schaefer moves on to his next objection that may stem merely from inexcusable ignorance rather than a desire to intentionally mislead.

This bill also presupposes that all parents are able to get along well enough to co-parent their children and that conflicts in a shared custody situation will be at a minimum. Most people divorce because they can’t get along and concur on parenting issues. The stress from conflict and bouncing back and forth between households can be immense on children and, in the case of very young children, can result in very serious emotional issues.

No, it presupposes no such thing. What the bill actually does is take cognizance of the social science on parental conflict and shared parenting. Schaefer’s claim has a certain visceral appeal. After all, if parents can’t get along well enough to remain married, can they do so well enough to capably parent the child post-divorce?

The answer is that shared parenting tends to ameliorate parental conflict over time. Dr. Linda Nielsen analyzed every study of shared parenting in the English language, 52 in all, and found that children in shared parenting arrangements do better on a wide array of well-being factors than those in sole or primary care. Of the six studies that examined parental conflict, every one of them found kids in shared care doing better than those in any other arrangement.

If shared parenting isn’t good for kids, as Schaefer claims, why is it that, of the 52 studies reviewed by Nielsen, 51 of them found it to be the best post-divorce arrangement and only one was noncommittal? Needless to say, Schaefer doesn’t answer that question.

That brings me to this remarkable statement in his article:

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has come out against the recent legislative movement toward mandated shared custody in Michigan and other states, and for very good reasons based upon real experience and solid research.

Oh, what research would that be? Schaefer provides no links and, since Nielsen’s already gone through all the applicable research and found that it entirely supports shared parenting, my strong belief is that there is none. Nevertheless, I’ll email Schaefer and ask for what he has.

I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#sharedparenting, #Michigan, #child’sbestinterests

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