Franklin: Shared parenting should be the default

Robert Franklin

When she and her husband were divorcing, Jennifer Fink felt the way a lot of parents do. She was angry at her husband, thought she was the better parent and wanted sole custody of their two sons. But the law in her state, Wisconsin, strongly encourages shared parenting of children when mom and dad divorce, and that’s what the judge ordered.

But Wisconsin is just one of two states that effectively encourage family judges to order equal – or almost equal – parenting time when parents divorce. Fortunately, many other states, including Michigan, are considering following suit.

One of the major factors behind our epidemic of fatherlessness is family courts that routinely consign one parent, usually the father, to mere visitor status in his children’s lives. Typically, non-custodial parents see their kids four days per month, plus a few hours one night per week, plus a few weeks during the summer.

That’s bad for kids. The overwhelming weight of science demonstrates that children do better with two parents involved in their lives. Federal statistics show that kids with two parents are more likely to do well in school, stay out of jail, stay away from drugs and alcohol, avoid teen pregnancy, avoid depression and be gainfully employed as adults than are their peers with a single parent.

Fathers and mothers both need the time, energy, financial resources and parenting skills the other parent provides to be the best parents they can be. Plus, research has shown that children begin to form powerful biological attachments to their parents as early as their eighth week of life. The loss of a parent is among the most traumatic events a child can suffer.

And yet the default position for family courts is to separate children from one parent when the adults divorce.

Sole parenting is not in parents’ interests either, as Fink points out. Non-custodial fathers are eight times as likely to commit suicide as are fathers with children.

Plus, single mothers with children living with them are far more likely to live in poverty than are any other segment of society. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that a whopping 31 percent of single mothers fall below the poverty line, versus 5.8 percent of married women.

Robert Franklin serves on the board of directors of National Parents Organization.