‘Shared Parenting – Good for Kids, Bad for Lawyers’

man repairing girl bike smallMay 10, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

There was another equal parenting bill before a state legislature this year. It met the fate most of them do; it didn’t make it out of committee. The legislature’s Judiciary Committee deadlocked 4 – 4 on the bill, so it died there. Why do equal parenting laws have so much difficulty passing and being signed into law? Well, as this article makes clear, one of the main reasons is the family law bar (Journal Star, 4/29/13).

The piece was written by Dr. Les Veskrna who’s head of the Children’s Rights Council that was a prime backer of LB 22 that sought to equalize fathers’ and mothers’ rights in custody disputes. As such, he was front and center for the fight over LB 22 that took place in the state’s unicameral legislature. Veskrna saw what happened; sadly, it’s a familiar sight. Veskrna gets it right. What he says, I’ve said for many years.

More than three dozen medical studies indicate that shared parenting arrangements after divorce — joint decision making and near-equal parenting time — provide the best outcomes for children. These studies also show that every-other-weekend parenting time arrangements, which are commonly ordered by Nebraska judges, are harmful to children.

Shared parenting reform bills have been introduced in the Unicameral every year for the past several years. Despite the strong consensus in the mental health literature in favor of shared parenting, the Nebraska State Bar Association has opposed every shared parenting reform bill. You might ask what vital interest of lawyers causes the NSBA to oppose these bills.

Shared parenting laws have been shown to reduce the level of conflict between parents. This is important because conflict between parents creates an enormous amount of stress for the kids, which can lead to emotional and medical problems. However, lawyers like conflict because it gives them things to fight about and increases their fees. Lawyers dislike shared parenting laws because it reduces their fees. Shared parenting — good for kids, bad for lawyers.

Is this why the NSBA opposes shared parenting proposals time and time again? The NSBA has been asked numerous times to make a proposal -– any proposal -– to help kids caught in custody disputes but they haven’t offered any. Not one.

That’s about the size of it. The social science on the benefits of shared parenting and the detriments of sole custody have been around for decades. The case for equal parenting only gets stronger with time. Equal parenting post-divorce results in better outcomes for children and the only studies of children’s preferences about custody show they overwhelmingly want equality for their mothers and fathers. That’s true of kids in equal parenting arrangements as well as those in unequal ones.

For a while, the anti-father crowd fell back on the claim that, yes, in an ideal situation, equality might work, but surely it must heighten conflict between parents. Nope. Like every other claim the anti-father forces have come up with, that one too fell before the onslaught of science. Social science shows that, far from exacerbating conflict, over time, shared parenting tends to do the opposite – ameliorate it.

The opposite proves true for the “winner-take-all” system utilized by most courts. And no wonder. Imagine how any father would feel when he’s told that all his love and devotion, all his hard work on behalf of his child means nothing in divorce court. He’s relegated to four + nights per month with his children and not allowed to have a say in the important decisions in their lives. On top of that, even his meager visitation can be casually ignored by Mom with little or no consequences for doing so. But let him fall behind on child support and the weight of state and federal enforcement bureaucracies come down on him like a ton of bricks.

So how do you imagine he feels about all that? Is he happy with the arrangement, content? Does he feel honored and respected? Or is he inclined to fight for what he knows to be his by right (if not by law) – a decent relationship with the person he loves most in the world? The lesson? Of course primary custody arrangements increase conflict. How could they not?

Conflict is the stock in trade of attorneys. Not for nothing is our court system called – by lawyers, courts, law schools, etc. – an adversary one. As a personality type, the profession attracts fighters, verbal jousters. The surest future lawyer is the kid who placed first in high school debate. Once licensed, that attorney finds that the greater the conflict, the greater the fee. The more litigants hate each other, the more motions get filed, hearings held, phone calls made, briefs written and filed, etc. And for each of those, the client pays.

Now, many litigants, both civil and criminal are pretty savvy about when to fight and when to settle. They have enough experience to know when to go for the gold and when to cut their losses. Insurance companies have entire departments that do little but analyze those very things. To many litigants, fighting in court is a sometimes-necessary evil, but in the final analysis, whether to do it or not is nothing but a cost-benefit analysis. It’s a cold-blooded calculation.

Not so parties to custody cases. Those are not experienced litigants for the most part and, since the breakup of a marriage and custody of kids are involved, it’s as personal as it ever gets in court. Family law attorneys take that to the bank.

So it’s no surprise to see them opposed equal custody legislation. It’s been shown to reduce conflict and even the divorce rate itself, both of which would strike a blow at the bottom lines of every family lawyer in the jurisdiction ruled by such a law.

Shared parenting laws reduce the ability of parents to use kids as leverage in property and child support disputes. One of the more unseemly aspects of family law is the buying and selling of children. This usually takes the form of “You want more time with the kids, then you need to increase my child support.” In extreme cases, one parent may abduct the kids or deny access to them unless the other parent agrees to make a payment. While rarely discussed outside the court house, the buying and selling of children is a routine part of Nebraska divorces. Shared parenting laws treat kids as human beings instead of chattel that can be bought and sold. By making it harder to buy and sell kids, shared parenting makes it harder for one parent to extort property from the other. Shared parenting — good for kids, bad for lawyers.

Shared parenting laws reduce the incidence of divorce. According to the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, “two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. [However,] in states where there is a presumption of shared custody with the husband the percentage of women who initiate divorces is much lower.” One study found shared parenting was associated with a lowering of divorce rates in 19 states surveyed. Divorce is extremely harmful to children and reducing divorce rates would improve outcomes for many children. However, it would also reduce the need for divorce lawyers. Shared parenting — good for kids, bad for lawyers.

It’s high time we started putting the well-being of children, parents and society generally ahead of the pocketbooks of family lawyers. It’s time we forced family judges to acknowledge the social science on the best interests of children and rule accordingly.

The National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

The National Parents Organization is a non-profit organization that is educating the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents and extended families. If you would like to get involved in our organization, you can do so several ways. First, we would love to have you as an official member of the National Parents Organization team. Second, the National Parents Organization is an organization that believes in the importance of using social media as a means to spread the word about shared parenting and other topics, and you can visit us on our Facebook Page to learn more about our efforts. Last, we hope you will share this article with other families using the many social networking sites so that we can bring about greater awareness of shared parenting. Thank you for your support.

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