Teetering on the brink

Posted on May 22, 2012 by

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by Robert Whiston  FRSA
First Minnesota teetered on the brink of changing its child custody laws in Feb 2012 and now South Carolina Senators are following suit (March 2012), by considering a Bill that will increase “Joint Custody” after a divorce.

Joint Custody is not shared parenting and in the American context there are two forms of ‘joint’ custody (joint legal and joint physical), neither of which presently comes close to joint residence (shared residence) which is now increasingly popular in Europe.

The ‘hassle’ of a child moving from one house to another every week is regularly cited as a reason not to reform matters but here were see yet another example of how it is preferred by the child.

Robert Kittle of WSPA-TV (based in Columbia, South Carolina), reported in March that State lawmakers were working on a bill that would radically change child custody in the state.

At present it’s rare for judges to award joint custody, and one parent usually has the children 85% of the time, leaving the other to see them only 4 days out of 30 (the tragedy of the “14%” of-the- year-Dad syndrome).

But a bill that’s already passed the House ( March 2012 ), and is now in a Senate sub-committee would make joint custody the norm instead of the exception. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee took two hours of testimony Thursday but, sadly, did not take a vote. Sen. Jake Knotts, Rep-West Columbia, said:

  • “Out of all the bills that I can remember coming through here, this is probably one of the most important bills that we can pass or do something about that will affect the future of this state.”

Addendum: May 24, 2012 – It’s a pity that Minesota’s Governor, one Mark Dayton, doesn’t share this view for he has decided to take no action on the Children’s Equal and Shared Parenting Act. The Act would have given each parent at least 35% parenting time with their child after a divorce  compared to the current law which gives only a minimum of 25% parenting time. The reason Dayton gives from doing nothing  is that he believes that both opponents and supporters made compelling arguments for this piece of legislation. He then reasons he would like to see more discussion in the next legislative session over changes to child custody laws in Minnesota.Dayton is perhaps taking advantage of the Minnesota Constitution which states that:

  • “any bill passed during the last three days of the  session which is not signed and deposited in 14 days after adjournment does not become a law”.

Opponents to the bill say that a Shared Parenting law would be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when each divorce and child custody case is unique and needs to be treated as such – but isn’t that the same argument we use in Britain and the EU against sole mother custody ?

 

Josh Kimbrell, a radio host in Greenville (South Carolina), says a change in the law is sorely needed:

  • “Right now, a judge does not have the discretion, unless both parents agree, to have 50-50 joint custody. Well, you know as well as I do, by the time you’re in a contentious divorce situation, getting a Mom and Dad to agree on those kinds of things is pretty hard.”

Under the bill that was debated early in March, a judge could grant 50-50 joint custody unless there’s proof of abuse, neglect or abandonment. Parents would also have to submit a “parenting plan” to the court, outlining how they would handle everything from where children would go to school to what activities they would be involved in and how the parents would split responsibilities.

So this does look as if it’s a departure from the normal joint custody regime which actually gives fathers precious little.

Why This Matters

At public hearings, many a father has shared their painful experiences of being shut out of meaningful relationships with their children by their ex-wives and ex-girlfriends, who do so with the full backing, and force, of the family court system. It’s a family court system that is not unlike so many others throughout the USA (and overseas), where even a father who is ready, willing, fit, and able to be a parent for an equal amount of time as any mother – are overwhelmingly denied that right in favor of the mother. Often, this is done without any explanation at all, let alone a reasonably acceptable one. It is as if an unseen etherealcultural imperative’ alights from on high and the matter is magically decided.

Joe Carter, of Columbia, SC,  got divorced last June but he rarely gets to see his three children, ages 8, 6 and 3, because his wife was given custody. She initiated the divorce and he wanted to keep the family together. “The tears have flowed many, many nights,” he says, adding:

  • “If those items are not there–there is no abuse, no neglect, no abandonment–then what we’re looking for is the court to award physical joint custody to both mother and father, in order to safeguard the relationship with the children and the relationship they have with both parents.”

Confounding Analysis

Shared parenting detractors often argue that regular transitions between two parent’s homes are upsetting or a nuisance for children. But stop right there.

There are actually as many if not more “transition events” in sole mother custody (with contact visits) than transition events where shared parenting is the agreed arrangement.

If you do the arithmetic, a typically ‘mother-custody / father-contact’ schedule (where children might be permitted to be with their fathers during the day over the weekends twice a month) will generate about the same number of transitions between the parent’s homes. The only principal variations to this are when weekend stays are ‘overnights’ or where a mid-week ‘visit’ is allowed.

At the sub-committee hearing, 17-year-old Logan Lyles of Columbia told Senators that her parents got divorced almost six years ago and they’ve always shared joint custody of her and her brother. She said she can’t imagine what it would have been like not to have had her father in her life as much as he was because of joint custody. She said, chuckling:

  • “Moving from house to house every week is a hassle. I know that first-hand, living out of a suitcase, but I wouldn’t change our situation for the world.”

There is opposition, however. South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse executive director Pamela Jacobs says:

  • “Even in cases where there’s not abuse but it’s a high-conflict case, joint custody may not be appropriate right away because you’re forcing two people who already can’t communicate to then share the child.”

This  chestnut of an excuse for doing nothing is raised tediously in every country across the western world whenever shared parenting is contemplated as if in some deliberately orchestrated way. High-conflict cases are rare both in numbers and percentages, and it is difficult to see heart surgery being halted today because 1% of cases might be risky or judges fail to hand down a sentence because juries might be wrong in 5% of cases.

Scaremongering appears to be a stock-in-trade among certain reformers who want to block all reforms other than their own. Such factions appear to advocate,  “better the injustice we know rather than the salvation we don’t.”

An often made argument is that by giving sole custody to the mother, stability for the child is promoted and assured. But this insistence, indeed, this alleged pre-requisite, for stability is never fulfilled in actualitie. Arguably, it is not even assuaged.

Meaningful stability is really only possible for a child when the courts and both parents allow children to maintain their strong instinctive bonds with both parents.

In the clamour to thwart better father-child relationships the wishes of the child are repeatedly sacrificed by the very people who purportedly seek measures that will protect the child from some imagined risk or theoretical harm.

Joe Carter says there would be another benefit to the bill:

  • “I think the biggest impact it’s going to have is financially. I’m hoping it’s going to keep more money in the family, where the money could be spent on the children, versus being spent in the courts.”

Because the issue is so complex, Senators on the sub-committee decided to hold another hearing and explore the possibility of creating a study committee.

Oh dear, is this another way of letting it run into the sand and disappearing without trace ?

END

References:

WSPA-TV:  http://www.wistv.com/

Article: http://www2.wspa.com/news/2012/mar/01/4/sc-senators-consider-bill-increase-joint-custody-a-ar-3332038/

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