March 30th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Shared parenting legislation in Minnesota has passed three committees and needs only to pass the Senate Finance Committee before it goes to the Senate floor for a vote. Molly Olson and her compadres at the Center for Parental Responsibility have once again been working hard to convince the powers that be that children need both parents in their lives post-divorce and that current law largely prevents that. Read the latest here (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 3/30/12).
As the twin bills currently stand, HF 322 and SF 1402 provide for a presumption that, if parents are fit, each is entitled to a certain amount of parenting time post divorce. The House bill calls for 45.1% as a minimum for each parent while the Senate bill calls for 40%. Either would be a vast improvement over the current 25%.
Equalizing (or almost equalizing) parenting time has gotten a lot of press in the state and most of it has been positive. Even press reports of committee hearings have shown the pro-equal parenting forces carrying the day. But as we’ve seen before, there’s a long road between favorable press coverage, positive committee work and actual passage of equal parenting legislation. Many have tried, but as yet, none have succeeded. We’re hoping for a better outcome this year in Minnesota. If there’s a more effective advocate for shared parenting than Molly Olson, I sure don’t know who it is.
The article linked to gives a fair impression of the differing views on the issue of equal parenting. It quotes Olson thus:
“The current system we have is far outdated. Forty-five years ago women did not work, and it was not the father’s duty to be a parent. Well, we live in a different culture now. We have had a one-size-fits-all model where one parent is the winner and one is the loser [in a divorce.] This bill puts both parents on an equal playing field.”
Unsurprisingly, the opposition comes from a family lawyer.
On the other side is family law attorney Michael Dittberner, who said the bill would create a cookie-cutter approach to complex divorce proceedings:
“There are sometimes families in which one parent has a greater role in parenting than the other parent. That is the bottom line. And if you create a presumption that both parents should get equal parenting time, you are focusing not on the children but instead on the parent’s wishes.”
Well, if that’s the best they’ve got, I couldn’t be happier. Simply put, what Dittberner says is bunk. Pure bunk. First, the shared parenting legislation is not a cookie-cutter approach to child custody. Anyone who’d like to actually read the bill knows that Mom and Dad can agree to anything they want. Remember, we’re assuming that the two are fit parents. If they’re not, the presumption is rebutted, all bets are off and the judge can decide anything he/she wants to.
But if the parents are fit, they get to decide what’s best for the kids and for them. If Mom travels five days a week for business, they’d probably agree on something that accomodates her schedule rather than trying to pound her 45% into the two days a week she’s in town. Of course if they can’t decide, then the judge would decide for them in which case, Mom’s inability to do 45% of the care would rebut the presumption.
Surely Dittberner knows this; it’s written plainly in the proposed bills. The fact that he pretends otherwise is proof positive that the anti-father forces don’t have anything to say. If they had a real argument, don’t you think they’d make it?
That goes double for Dittberner’s claim that, in some unspecified way, equal parenting focuses “not on the children but instead on the parent’s wishes.” That’s odd. Massive amounts of social science show children doing better with two biological parents than with one. Equal parenting post-divorce is the closest we can get to giving children two parents when the couple splits up. So of course a presumption of equal parenting is itself in the best interests of children, but again, Dittberner is happy to ignore the well-known facts.
And by the way, studies that ask children what their wishes are find that equal parenting post-divorce is strongly favored by children. In fact, as Dr. Edward Kruk reports, over 70% of children said they preferred equal parenting to any other arrangement.
What those opposed to a presumption of equal parenting never get around to mentioning is why the current system should be maintained. They oppose all efforts at reform, but never explain what’s so good about what family courts do time and again, day after day, year after year. The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that, in the United States, 35% of children of divorce have no contact with their fathers. That is a direct result of (a) sole maternal custody in 83% of cases, (b) the refusal to enforce visitation and (c) other factors like the issuance of temporary restraining orders on little or no evidence, maternal gatekeeping, parental alienation, and the like.
I hereby invite anyone who opposes equal parenting to explain why the above should be considered acceptable to our society. I offer a forum here on this site to anyone who will do that. Michael Dittberner tried and failed, but anyone who thinks he/she can do better is welcome to try.
Me? I don’t see it. The arguments for keeping fathers and mothers both in children’s lives are simply too powerful, too persuasive. Equal parenting is good for all. It’s good for fathers who would keep contact with their children; it’s good for children who wouldn’t lose a parent; it’s good for mothers who wouldn’t be saddled with 100% (or almost that) of the childcare duties; and it’s good for society whose children would be healthier, whose fathers would be happier and less likely to involve themselves in crime or abuse drugs or alcohol and whose mothers would be able to earn more and be more financially secure.
Equal parenting is the wave of the future; it may as well start now.