Michael Doherty of the Children's Rights Council of Illinois was kind enough to write me this weekend to say that his members have been following Illinois Divorce Law Blog. Here is an excellent article about shared parenting in which the Children's Rights Council was quoted:
Sharing Custody By: Sarah Rupp http://www.crisp-india.org/articles/147.html
"Do what's best for the kids."
Everyone says that during a divorce. But determining "what's best" often becomes a mud-slinging tug-of-war where no one wins - especially the children.
Shared parenting plans attempt to diffuse the fighting, putting the children first. Both parents get joint legal and physical custody. The terms "custodial parent" and "visiting parent" no longer apply.
Supporters say joint custody helps fight the "fading father" syndrome, keeping dads emotionally and financially involved.
It makes sense. In a perfect world, children should grow up in a loving, supportive environment with both parents. And in a perfect world, both parents should share equal responsibilities, eradicating "traditional" gender roles where the father's the sole breadwinner and the mother's the sole caregiver.
But in the real world of divorce, the rational, level-headed thinking that joint custody often requires doesn't always seem possible. And that's the biggest barrier.
It's not easy for an ex-husband to drop the kids off at the home of his former wife, who he says lives with a new boyfriend every other month. It's equally difficult for an ex-wife to encourage her kids to see their dad after he walked out on them. And one woman complains that shared parenting keeps her from moving up in her career, since she can't take her dream job across the country without giving up her son. She questions adhering to the rules when, in her opinion, the father ignores the children and doesn't pay any child support.
But David Luevy, an attorney and president of the Children's Rights Council, based in Washington D.C., says that, overall, shared parenting works better than sole custody arrangements.The Children's Rights Council suggests the following custody schedule:
Age Recommended contact with both parents
Under 1 year Part of each day
Ages 1 to 2 Every other day
Ages 2 to 5 Not more than two days w/out seeing parents
Ages 5 to 9 Alternate weeks; "off duty" parent getting a mid-week visitation
Over 9 Alternate weeks
Luevy says studies from the American Psychological Association show that children tend to fare better emotionally when both parents are involved, minimizing the lasting effects of divorce. And fathers who share custody are also more likely to pay child support.
Judith Seltzer at the University of Wisconsin in Madison says that after studying more than 13,000 divorced families, she found that joint custody keeps fathers more involved.
* Both parents usually stay more involved.
* Child support is fully paid more often.
* Parents share more responsibilities and raise the child together.
* It doesn't work as well if the parents don't live in the same area.
* It's ineffective if the parents continue to fight. Children want their parents to get along and divorce is supposed to solve that problem.
* Kids may complain about feeling "unsettled" since they have to switch houses so often.
* It can be a difficult arrangement to uphold when the child becomes a teenager. Luevy says that parents need to be flexible and work with the child to work out a schedule.
The only time shared parenting doesn't work better than other custody arrangements is if the parents continue to fight, says Luevy. Arguing, crying and all the other emotional baggage that's hard to shed hurts the children more than anything else. (Of course, joint custody isn't possible if one of the parents is abusive or unfit in other ways.)
With that said, should fighting parents even attempt 50/50 shared parenting arrangements?
Luevy says yes.
"Even the most contentious parents can make joint custody work with highly structured visitation schedules," he says. "A flexible schedule will not work."
That's why the Children's Rights Council promotes using "drop off points," a neutral setting to transfer the kids, so that parents don't have to see or talk to each other.
"Community centers, churches and day cares make excellent neutral settings," he says.
Joint custody is now the preferred and presumed custody arrangement in 26 states and the District of Columbia. And more than one out of five divorces has shared parenting arrangements, says a 1997 report from the National Center for Health Statistics.
"Considering the fact that for hundreds and hundreds of years, sole custody has been the only acceptable custody arrangement, it's remarkable how quickly shared parenting has caught on," says Luevy.