September 14, 2016
By Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The news out of Maryland is good. It’s actually better than good because it corroborates what we’ve long known – that We the People avidly support equal or nearly equal parenting post-divorce. John Chick of the Maryland chapter of National Parents Organization personally commissioned and paid for a survey on Marylanders’ attitudes toward shared parenting. It was conducted by the highly reputable polling organization, Public Policy Polling, from August 5 – 7 of this year. A total of 580 voters were polled. Unsurprisingly, the results strongly support changing state law to promote shared parenting.
First, here are three general questions asked respondents and their answers:
Q2 Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Fatherlessness is a major problem in America today.
Not sure 13%
Q3 Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: The role of fathers has changed drastically in the past 50 years.
Not sure 9%
Q4 Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Both parents should share responsibility for raising their children.
Not sure 4%
So, overwhelmingly, respondents consider fatherlessness a major problem, think the role of fathers has changed “drastically” and that parents should share equally the responsibility of childcare. So far so good.
Now for the zinger:
Q5 Thinking about parents who get divorced and have to go to court to decide who should get custody of their children, and neither of which have any history of child abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, in general, who do you think should have more rights – the mother, the father, or do you think their rights should be equal?
14% The mother should have more rights in child custody disputes
3% The father should have more rights in child custody disputes
79% The mother and father should have equal rights
Not sure 4%
A whopping 79% of respondents said they thought mothers and fathers should be treated equally by family courts in child custody orders, assuming parental fitness and no background of abuse. That’s right in line with similar surveys done in Canada and the United Kingdom, each of which found support for equal treatment ranging from 70% – 80%.
Interestingly, the survey asked the same question twice, first at the beginning of the survey and the second time at the end. Here it is:
Q1 Would you support or oppose a change in Maryland Family Law that would create a starting point whereby joint legal and physical custody – commonly referred to as shared parenting – for approximately equal periods of time is viewed as being in the best interests of the child? This starting point would still enable the court to consider preferences of the child, the distance between residences, or any history of child abuse, neglect or domestic violence before making a determination on whether joint custody is appropriate in any given case.
To that question, 59% said they’d change state law, 19% said they wouldn’t and 23% said they weren’t sure. At the end of the survey, respondents were asked the same question but prefaced this way:
Q6 Having heard all the information in this poll, let me ask you again:
After having thought about the issues by going through the questionnaire, some respondents then answered Question Six differently than they had Question One. To the final question, 63% said they’d change state law to promote shared parenting (compared to 59% at the beginning of the poll), 15% said they wouldn’t and 22% weren’t sure.
To me, that suggests that efforts to change public opinion can have an effect. Those results tell me that, when people are contacted out of the blue and asked to give an opinion on a subject about which they may not have given much thought, they’re generally in favor of shared parenting, although a significant number haven’t formed an opinion. But, when they’re required to think about the issue in the light of parental roles, gender equality and the importance of fathers to children – all important parts of the argument in favor of shared parenting – their opinions morph in the direction of changing state law to promote parental equality.
Of further interest is the fact that 54% of the respondents reported their political affiliation as Democratic. This being Maryland, a traditionally blue state, that’s no surprise. Democratic office holders are routinely the most likely to oppose shared parenting bills, but their constituents are solidly in favor of those bills. Office holders might want to consider the results of this survey in the future.
All in all, this is excellent news, albeit unsurprising. A hearty shout-out to John Chick for commissioning this important survey and providing the results to us.