January 8, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The Washington Post is at it again. Having run a good piece on shared parenting by Michael Alison Chandler, it followed it up with one by Joan Meier that bordered on the delusional and then another by Terence Mentor that paired complete ignorance of the biology of parenting behavior with actual self-contradiction. But it looks like the editors still haven’t completed their penance for Chandler’s article, so we get this by the editors themselves (Washington Post, 1/5/18).
It’s about what the Maryland Legislature should do to improve child custody law. According to the Post, lawmakers shouldn’t do much.
One of the many tried and true methods by which elected officials skirt the will of the people is by appointing a “blue ribbon commission” to study whatever issue those officials want to avoid. So, back in 2013, the Maryland Legislature appointed a Commission on Child Custody Decision Making. It did what commissions so often do: it made sure to get its information mostly from those with an active interest in the status quo.
MARYLAND LAWMAKERS created a special commission in 2013 to study how child custody decisions are made in the state’s courts. The group met over 18 months and heard from more than 200 stakeholders, including judges, family law attorneys and mental-health professionals.
With that input, it’s no surprise that the Commission made the same mistakes and indulged the same assumptions as are routine with family court lawyers and judges. The upshot is that, if the legislature does anything (which it hasn’t yet), it’ll be little but a fig leaf for continuing business as usual.
The 330-page report released by the commission recommends adoption of a custody statute, currently lacking in Maryland, that provides guidance to litigants and judges about the considerations to be made in custody decisions. The report recommends requiring that parties in custody cases submit proposed parenting plans. It advocates the replacement of emotionally charged terms such as “custody” and “visitation” with “parenting time” and “decision-making responsibility.”
So, what the Commission recommended and what the Post fearlessly endorses amounts to little change at all. It wants parents to know what judges consider in deciding custody, to change certain terminology and to require parents to submit parenting plans. I checked, but the earth didn’t tremble. The simple fact is that, if those recommendations were all adopted, Maryland’s children would have no better chance of spending meaningful time with both parents than they do now. If the lawyers and judges wanted no change from the status quo, that’s exactly what the Commission recommended.
The people of Maryland? That’s a different story. As I reported here, when an independent polling organization asked Marylanders their preferences, a whopping 79% opted for parental equality in custody decisions. More important, in light of the Commission’s recommendations, 59% of those polled said they’d change state law. Here’s the question that elicited those responses:
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.
In short, the people of Maryland seem to be far smarter about the issue and far more in tune with the realities of child well-being than is the Commission or the judges and lawyers it relied on.
Do I have to mention that the Post makes the usual errors about shared parenting?
The Maryland commission opted against a change to presumption [of equal parenting] and, we believe, for good cause. There are clear benefits to shared parenting, and it, in fact, is the choice of most divorcing parents. But imposing a one-size-fits-all rule that uses a count of overnights to determine fairness for a parent would undermine important protections for children. Judges must have discretion to determine what is in the “best interest of the child,” and sometimes that might mean deciding a parent — no matter how loving or well-intentioned — is ill-equipped to share custody.
It’s all there. Every misconception and false claim the lawyers love to make in order to maintain the status quo, conflict between divorcing parents and their cash flow.
One size fits all? No, shared parenting bills invariably allow parents to fashion their own custody and parenting time arrangements. A “count of overnights to determine fairness?” No again. The count of overnights is what’s been demonstrated by the science on shared parenting to be best for children. As long as the child is with each parent at least 35% of the time, the many benefits of shared parenting hold. Below that, they tend not to. The “count of overnights” is all about children’s best interests, something the Post pretends to value.
Judges’ discretion to promote kids’ interests? If judges’ decisions do that, then why do they routinely sideline one parent in the children’s lives? Why do they render one parent the custodial one and one the visitor. Over 50 studies show that to be bad practice and antithetical to children’s welfare, but judges do it anyway. The simple fact is that the way states train judges ensures that they don’t know what parenting arrangements are good for kids and which aren’t. That and the well-established anti-father bias of family court judges add up to results that are contrary to children’s interests.
And if one parent is unfit for custody, shared parenting bills invariably allow him/her to have custody denied.
The Post is channeling the claims of the child custody industry. They’ve long been known to have no foundation in fact. Their only aim is to line the pockets of divorce lawyers. At that, and only at that, they succeed quite well.
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.
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