Co-Parenting/Shared Parenting the Way of the Future.
By: Chad Loudermilk
To say that things have “changed” in the past 50 years is quite an understatement. In the past 50 years we have landed on the moon, created satellites, created a polio vaccine, invented the computer, the internet, ATM’s, Cellphones, MRI machines, GPS, and hybrid vehicles to just name a few. The modern era of technology is leaps and bounds better and advanced further than one could have believed 50 years ago.
The same holds true for almost all aspects of society. Advancements in Medicine, surgical procedures, and preventative practices have increased our life expectancy far more than we could have ever imagined.
Another aspect that has drastically changed is the field of psychology. Over the past 50 years the Association for Psychological Science (APS) has been formed (1988), new disciplines and approaches have been created, new ways of teaching and learning have been discovered, and hundreds of thousands of research articles have been written and published helping our society better understand the ever changing world we call life. Advancements in Psychology have led to major governmental organizations like the FBI and CIA to have trained professionals in the field of psychology work for them to profile terrorists, serial killers, and other dangerous individuals. Government relies on the field of psychology to conduct research and gather data to help us better assist federally funded programs, rehabilitative services, and educational information just to name a few.
Needless to say, all aspects of society have drastically changed over the past 50 years, except for one; child custody and visitation (or what we now call parenting responsibilities and parenting time). The same standards are being used on parents as they were 50 years ago. The Illinois laws on divorce and families were written in 1960, 58 years ago. These laws have been updated a time or two between now and then and most recently in 2016 but one thing that has stayed the same throughout the last 58 years is the part on parenting time (visitation). Yes they changed the nomenclature but not the meaning or application of the laws. They have added “maximum involvement of both parents” but have failed to define what “maximum involvement” even means. Does that mean 5 days with dad and 25 days with mom? We don’t know and they leave that open for speculation. So what do they do? They leave it up to judges to determine what “maximum involvement” means to them. And from what we have gathered that definition is drastically different from one judge to the next due to recent studies proving that judicial biases occur at stagger rates when dealing with child custody cases. But what we do know is that the “standard” visitation has, and still is, Wednesday for a couple hours, and every other weekend.
With that being said lets look at the family structure and family dynamics. We can all agree that over the past 58 years times have drastically changed. In the 1960’s we were looking at the last 10-15 years in determining what was best for families of divorce. So we were looking at 1945-1960. During that time period it was very common for the husband to work and the wife to stay at home and be a “homemaker”. The man would go to work all day, come home, eat dinner, read the newspaper, and go to bed. The wife would clean the house, do laundry, cook dinner, do the dishes, and take care of the children. That was the so-called “normal life” they would say.
When a marriage would fail and divorce occurred during that time, it was almost guaranteed the mother would get custody of the children and the father would be given very little “visitation” to his children. This was the “standard” practice for divorces for many years because of the family structure and dynamics. The “standard” visitation later became like I mentioned earlier the Wednesday evenings either for a few hours, or if you were lucky overnight, and then every other weekend. The standard range of “visitation” for fathers is between 16-28% vs. 72-84% for mothers.
But as all aspects of society, a lot has changed since the 1960’s. We now have just as many women as we do men in the workplace. We have women doctors, lawyers, CEO’s. We have women business owners, we have women politicians, we have women in almost every avenue of business now. The term “homemaker” is a thing of the past for the majority of women in todays’ society. So to say the least, the liberation of women in the workplace drastically changed the family dynamics at home.
We now have fathers carrying their weight of what use to be considered the “motherly” duties. We have men cooking dinner, helping with homework, bathing the kids at night, reading bedtime stories, and even changing dirty diapers. We have men doing laundry, cleaning the house, and washing dishes. We have families splitting duties evenly to make it easier and fair. We even go as far as to having stay at home dads now, who have reversed the roles from the 1950’s. They stay at home and take care of the children and the house duties while the mother goes to work everyday. As I have mentioned, things have drastically changed in the last 50 years.
Have the societal views on custody and visitation changed in the past 50 years? Absolutely. We can affirm this by the ever-growing push for “shared parenting” and “co-parenting” across the nation. What have we learned over the last 50 years that has given society this view you might ask? Let’s break down some of the research and what we know.
First, we must look at the research done on families and children of divorce over the past 50 years to see what impact it has had on society. What we have learned from research is that children raised in single-parent homes, with minimal to no contact with their fathers, are at a higher risk to drop out of school, run away from home, become pregnant, commit suicide, seek or create abusive relationships, turn to drugs and alcohol, becoming incarcerated, and being less successful (1). Years and years of research have continually shown that the current custody and visitation laws are setting our children up to fail in society.
What does research recommend as an alternative or solution to the current law? Co-Parenting/Shared Parenting. Co-parenting/Shared Parenting has become very popular across the nation to the point where thousands of books have been written about how to co-parent. The reason you might ask? Because for years now research has recommended and pointed towards co-parenting being what is best for children after a divorce or separation. So lets talk about what some of the current research actually says about co-parenting/shared parenting.
Dr. Linda Nielsen one of the leading researchers from Wake Forest University looked at 40 studies over the past 25 years regarding co-parenting/shared parenting (2). She has concluded that children in shared parenting situations had better outcomes on measures of emotional, behavioral, and psychological well-being.
Dr. Edward Kruk another leading researcher from the University of British Columbia presented sixteen arguments in support of equal parental responsibility presumption in contested child custody. Clinical and empirical evidence in support of each argument is contrasted to the conflicting evidence (3).
Dr. Ned Holstein a Physician and founder of The National Parents Organization stated the following in May of 2017: “Research from all over the world, the leading people, are saying and endorsing the assertion that the research has reached a critical mass, and it shows that shared parenting is best for most children” (4).
Dr. William Fabricius another leading researcher from the University of Arizona and one of the main contributors to helping pass Arizona’s shared parenting bill in 2014 has done a lot of research on looking at the importance of father-child relationship. He has concluded that although courts are agreeable that a father-child relationship is important, their practices and judgments do not reflect that (5). Another great point that Dr. Fabricius’ research has found is that after surveying grown children of divorce. His research found that an overwhelming majority of children in divorced homes had wished they had spent more time with their fathers. It was even found that of the small amount raised in equal parenting time 93% of them believe it is best (6).
Dr. Michael Lamb is one of the most respected researchers in contemporary family studies. Dr. Lamb found that the old research regarding stability and the one home, one bed practice for infants and toddlers has been incorrectly overemphasized. He stated that we must look at the significance of emotional, social, and cognitive contributions from both parents. It was found that what was best for children even infants and toddlers was shared parenting, where both mother and father can build significant relationships and bond with the child (7).
Dr. Richard Warshak , another supporter of shared parenting is a psychologist and leading researcher in the field, as well as an author of many books. He has also been a White House consultant on child custody and one of 60 top experts invited to participate in an American Bar Association family law reform initiative. Dr. Warshak actually got 110 leading researchers to sign off on agreeing that in normal circumstances, evidence supports co-parenting/shared parenting as being best for children after divorce (8)
This is just a very small list of over 110 leading researchers across the world who have conducted research that supports co-parenting/shared parenting. These researchers have devoted their entire careers to social science research. They have looked at all aspects of the spectrum and have concluded that co-parenting/shared parenting is what is best for children and families after divorce in almost all situations.
This brings us to the big question we all have been asking ourselves; Then why doesn’t our laws reflect what research and society have been telling us? We know that research is saying co-parenting/shared parenting is best for children. We know that Co-parenting has become a booming trend as far as books and research go for the past several years. We know that what we have been doing for the past 50 years does not work and actually puts our children in harms way. We know that society has changed drastically and those gender roles we had 50 years ago do not apply anymore. We know all of this to be true, but yet we still have outdated laws that produce bad outcomes for our children and for society as a whole. What we have is a pandemic of at risk youth across the nation struggling because of these outdated laws and practices.
What is it that is actually keeping us from changing current laws to reflect what research and society is telling us? It’s quite simple if we take a look at all of the stakeholders involved. What are stakeholders? Stakeholders are people with an interest or concern in something. Then who are the stakeholders in a divorce? The stakeholders are the mother, father, children, attorneys (including guardian ad litems & Mediators), and Judges. Lets now look at what each person has to gain and/or lose if laws are changed to reflect research. For a condensed version of this (because this could get very detailed) lets lump Mother, Father, and Children all together as well as Attorneys and Judges together.
Looking at what Mother, Father, and Child(ren) will gain or lose from a co-parenting/shared parenting bill (HB4113)becoming law the first difference will now be splitting time equally. This also evenly distributes the responsibilities of a child onto both parents now instead of just one parent for the majority of the time. Compared to the “standard” (Wednesday and every other weekend visitation) the mother will have fewer overnights with her children, but the father will have more overnights. But for mothers and fathers new to divorce it will just be the new “standard” before long. Good fit parents who want to do what’s best for their children will sacrifice time with their child to give them the opportunity to succeed. The problem is, is that during a divorce now, we’re being told by attorneys that children need “stability” and that means staying more time with one parent and “visiting” the other. (We know this to be false because research supports that what children see as stability is equal time with both parents) (9). We’re being told children don’t need to live out of suitcases, and that 50/50 makes them go back n forth to much, which is also untrue. There are more exchanges in the standard visitation orders than of almost all 50/50 arrangements (10). So now with shared parenting the children are at a much less risk of developing all of those terrible atrocities spoken of in past research regarding single-parent homes. The children now are able to spend equal time with both parents and will have a better opportunity to bond equally with both parents. Which as the research suggests is very important to the child’s mental and emotional well-being. Parents will now be responsible for their half of raising the children including taking them to appointments, school events, extracurriculars, etc. So overall, an overwhelming majority (according to research between 85-90%) will agree that shared parenting is a benefit to mothers, fathers, and children (11).
Now, lets look at attorneys and judges. What do attorneys and judges have to gain and/or lose with the changing of these laws? To answer this question lets first answer another major question that is also important to this breakdown. Who has been/is behind writing the laws for family court? For as long as its existence the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) has been the main contributor for writing new bills/laws regarding family law reform. Why is this important? Maybe it will help us better understand why our current laws do not reflect what research and society believes to be best. So back to answering the initial question of gain and/or loses. If a co-parenting/shared parenting bill (HB4113) passes, then the amount of litigation will drastically reduce. Why is this you might ask? The majority of divorce cases that are drug out for years, are almost all cases regarding disputes over custody and visitation. This litigation is usually one parent trying to get more or equal time and the other trying to keep that from happening. Therefore if a co-parenting/shared parenting bill (HB4113) passes, those cases will drastically reduce due to starting at equal time. What does a equal shared parenting bill really mean to attorneys? The old saying “follow the money” holds true in this situation as well. The only reason why laws do not reflect what is best for our children is because of influential organizations, “special interest groups”, and people who benefit from the current situations staying the way they are. If we look at the largest moneymaker for Attorneys, you will find that Family Law ranks number 1. According to a documentary called Divorce Corp. they state that it’s a whopping 50 Billion dollars a year industry. Yes you read that right; it’s not a typo, billion not million. Family law rakes in more money itself than all other forms of law combined. So with us knowing that the majority of disputed divorce cases are over custody and visitation, then we can assume that the amount of litigation in divorces will drastically decrease due to a co-parenting/shared parenting law being implemented. Which in turn will drastically decrease the income attorneys will make off of family law litigation.
Another point to add that addresses how judges are involved as stakeholders is this. Most judges don’t want anyone to know this but once they retire from being a judge, they don’t usually stop practicing law, or being involved in the law system one way or another. Judges usually work as mediators or work for an organization still within the family law community after retirement so they can still collect a paycheck while retired. If they were to support an equal shared parenting bill (HB4113) then they would be taking away from their own retirement plan.
When we compare the two (mothers, fathers, children) and (attorneys, judges) we now see that the group that benefits the most from equal shared parenting laws are the mothers, fathers, and children. The group that loses the most from passing an equal shared parenting law are the attorneys and judges.
By now we should have a clearer understanding as to why our laws do not reflect what research is telling us, correct? It is because the same people who have been writing the laws for years and who influence legislators into passing laws to benefit them, are the same people who have the most to lose (MONEY) if we pass a equal shared parenting bill (HB4113), plain and simple.
Which brings me to my final point, which might be the most important question to clarify. Who should legislators believe? Should legislators believe attorneys and judges, or should they believe leading researchers/psychologist? Anyone with common sense can agree that Judges and Attorneys specialize in Law. They interpret the law and apply it to situations in court cases. They are considered experts in the field of Law. Researchers/Psychologist are experts in the field of psychology and conducting research. Most universities require their professors to conduct and get research published while being an employee of the University. Psychologist narrowly focus their concentration of study on one specific topic of their interest therefore, they usually focus all of their research around this one topic as well. They are experts at conducting research, collecting the data and interpreting it. They are experts at telling us what the research findings tells us about what is the best common practice to have the best outcomes. They are also experts in telling us what doesn’t work and the negative outcomes due to certain reasons. Simply put they are experts in telling us what works and what does not work and why.
So, whom should legislators believe? Attorneys and judges who are experts in the field of law, or Researchers/Psychologist who are experts in the field of psychology and research? The obvious answer without an ounce of doubt is the Researchers/Psychologists.
What we have is a man made pandemic where children are being used as pawns and in turn taking the blunt end of the negative consequences from it. All due to the fact that we have special interest groups who will not listen to what research is telling us is best. This is because their special interest is not the best interest of children or society but is in the best interest of their cause/profession and pocketbooks. It is a very sad situation, and unfortunately it’s the children who are the ones that suffer the most from it.
So what can we do about it? We must stand up and be heard. We must stand up and stop allowing attorneys and judges to say what is best for our children, when we know research says otherwise. We must educate our legislators about what research really says is best for our children. We must tell our legislators that we are tired of these outdated laws, and that we are tired of our children being victims of a broken system that can easily be fixed. We must tell them that enough is enough; our children have suffered for far too long! We must demand changing these laws to reflect what research tells us is best. We must not take no as an answer. We must not give up. We must stand up and be heard. We must educate. But most importantly of all, we must do it with love, compassion, and integrity.
(1) (U.S. Dept. of health/census) (Center for Disease Control) (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26) (National Principals Association Report) (U.S. Dept. of Justice Sept. 1988) (Fulton Co. Georgia, Texas Dept. of Correction) (US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census) (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services press release, Friday, March 26, 1999)
(2) Re-examining the Research on Parental Conflict, Coparenting, and Custody Arrangements – Linda Nielsen
(3) Arguments for an Equal Parental Responsibility Presumption in Contested Child Custody – Edward Kruk
(5) Lay Judgments About Child Custody After Divorce – Sandford L. Braver, Ira Mark Ellman, Ashley M.
Votruba, and William V. Fabricius – Arizonia State University
(6) Young Adults’ Perspectives on Divorce Living Arrangements – William V.Fabricius and Jeffrey Hall.
(7) Critical Analysis of Research on Parenting plans and children’s well-being –Dr. Michael E. Lamb
(8) Stemming the tide of misinformation: International consensus on Shared parenting and overnighting. –
Dr. Richard A. Warshak
(9)(Fabricius et. Al, 2011) Reference #(5)
(10) Numbers Don’t Lie – Illinois Fathers for Equality http://ilffe.ilffe.org/index.php/2017/09/29/numbers-
(11) Shared Physical Custody: Does it benefit Most Children? – Linda Nielsen