I’ve seen a lot of headlines about states that are moving towards automatic joint custody for divorced parents. And there’s always a lot of cheers… and a lot of jeers.
This is big news in the communities devoted to Fathers’ Rights. Men usually cheer because this prescription will save fathers a lengthy and expensive court battle if they want to share parenting time equally with their ex.
The women’s communities are a bit more divided on this issue of 50/50 joint custody. Some women strongly believe their children are not safe with their ex. They insist, for the wellbeing of the children, that it should never be assumed a parent is fit to do the job.
Personally, I see both sides of this argument. I mean, I’ve literally seen both sides of this argument. I know lots of men who were painfully denied equal parenting time with their children. I know men who were eventually granted additional time, but only after a long and costly legal fight. And I know of situations where children were legally permitted to remain with a parent who was abusive, neglectful, or otherwise unfit.
So, What’s the Best Solution?
This is a tough situation. Lives are at stake. And the way out isn’t easy. It will never be as simple as going to court and having a judge issue the “right” order.
As with most things related to divorce, I think we need a cultural overhaul. And it starts way before a couple gets to court. Honestly, you could say it goes all the way back to access to birth control and responsible family planning (but that’s a whole other discussion).
Beyond conception, families need appropriate support:
- We need parental leave. Such policies that would allow parents to be present, to make commitments, and bond with their new children, thus setting the stage for future devotion.
- We need to stop thinking of fathers as “babysitters” who take care of their children when Mom is away. When we support fatherhood within marriage, we can recognize the importance of it post-marriage.
- We need better awareness around issues related to mental health, and we need better access to care.
- In general, we need more compassion and less contempt. For all living things.
- We need to stop the shallow celebrations of marriages that are simply “intact.”
- On that note, we need to accept that divorce is an appropriate path for some families.
- Building on that, we need to recognize the fact that divorce is about the evolution of a family, not the end of a family.
- We must realize that divorce is not a war. It’s not about good/bad or right/wrong. It’s simply about change.
- When we understand that, we can create new, healthy, norms around family evolution: gift/support registries, mediation/collaborative processes, separation ceremonies, etc.
- When we’ve created a culture that accepts divorce and supports healthy processes, we empower those in the process to solve their own problems.
- When people feel empowered and supported, and they have structure to hold their process, they don’t need to pay lawyers and judges to tell them what to do.
See what I’m saying?
When we’re able to shift our paradigm, everything else will change. Imagine creating a culture where court is the last thing anyone thinks of when it comes to divorce. In that culture, we won’t have to argue about how the state should structure families. When we live in that society, families will work together to structure themselves. And it will be in everybody’s best interest, given their own unique circumstances.