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After divorce, shared parenting is important

By Kristen Paasch

It started months ago — the positioning, the “talk,” the traveling around the country to small towns and big cities and everywhere in between, speaking at town hall meetings, through cellphone video sound bites or via super-efficient 140-character tweets.

What presidential candidates actually are talking about and what they should be talking about are two very different things. One of the largely overlooked key issues for not only Virginia families but also mothers, fathers and children throughout the nation is improving the well-being of our children when parents divorce or separate.

Considering nearly 20 states within the past year proposed child custody law changes that support shared parenting — rather than sole custody — after divorce, it’s time presidential candidates join the effort to bring family court reform to the forefront.

The urgency of the issue is in the data. As research continues to side with shared parenting, federal statistics continue to reveal the risks faced by children denied the active involvement of both parents.

For instance, federal data show that children raised by single parents account for the great majority of high-school dropouts, illegal drug use, institutionalized juveniles and teen suicides, among many other negative impacts.

In this age of gender role convergence, people — including presidential candidates — are often surprised to learn just how often courts currently favor one parent over the other. In fact, sole custody is awarded to one parent about 83 percent of the time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, thus creating a confrontational dynamic of single parent vs. “the visitor.”

The National Parents Organization published a Shared Parenting Report Card that, for the first time, graded each state’s child custody statutes A through F, and the results were dismal.

On a 4-point scale, the report found that the nation as a whole scored a 1.63 GPA, meaning most states performed poorly in encouraging shared parenting and parental equality in instances of divorce or separation.

This is in direct opposition to current, peer-reviewed research that recently has been published by the American Psychological Association and the Association of Family & Conciliation Courts, among others.

The shared parenting conversation is gaining momentum. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush said, “It’s a huge challenge for single moms to raise children in the world that we’re in today, and it hurts the prospects — it limits the possibilities — of young people being able to live lives of purpose and meaning.”

We need to strengthen the family. And we need to do so with an actual legal framework that facilitates parental equality, rather than contention, though, obviously, in cases of verified abuse — be it physical, drug or alcohol — another arrangement may be best.

States including South Dakota, Utah and Minnesota have implemented new laws within the past year that are supportive of shared parenting, and now, all presidential candidates should encourage state legislators to take action to raise each state’s shared parenting grade and, most important, better meet the needs of our children.

For instance, in Virginia, a state that received a D- on the Shared Parenting Report Card, legislators can have a dramatic impact by simply addressing the fact that the state’s outdated child custody statutes do not support shared parenting.

We must advance policy and enact shared parenting legislation throughout the nation. Which presidential candidates will recognize the importance of this effort? The candidates who value the American family the most will.

Who will step forward and champion children? That is who I want to vote for in 2016!

Kristen Paasch is a member of National Parents Organization of Virginia, a nonprofit that advocates for family court reform. Learn more about National Parents Organization at nationalparentsorganization.org.