For decades, it was a woman’s job to raise kids and a man’s job to pay for them. Our family courts are still forcing those gender roles on people, even when they divorce or separate.
We still see courts making mothers the primary custodians over 80 percent of the time. It’s still a woman’s job to raise the kids, married or not. The same courts send fathers the bills. It’s still the man’s job to pay.
Things are quickly changing. A light of hope arose this week in a surprising place. On April 26, Gov. Matt Bevin signed a new child custody law (House Bill 528) that was initiated by the National Parents Organization. The bill passed both chambers of the state legislature overwhelmingly. Republicans and Democrats spoke with one voice, stating that children deserve the best chance in life, and that means equal access to both parents.
The law will no longer pit parent versus parent in a winner-take-all situation. Instead, Kentucky law now states that children should have equal time with both parents when families split. It states that joint custody is in kids’ best interest. The law includes safeguards for children by excluding parents who are unfit due to drugs, violence or similar serious issues.
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These rapidly growing arrangements are called shared parenting. The definition of shared parenting is that both parents have equal decision-making (usually called “joint custody”) and equal parenting time. Neither parent is called a “visitor” in shared parenting laws. Further, shared parenting is a wonderful example of common sense and research merging into one obvious fact. Kids need both parents.
Equal parenting makes kids the real winners. Joint custody children are less likely to do drugs and more likely to do art or soccer. Children will feel the love of two parents, not just one. Studies definitively show that kids with meaningful and consistent contact with both their moms and dads (or both moms or both dads) do better in life.
Ryan Schroeder, chair of the University of Louisville’s sociology department, testified on the law’s behalf. He has studied the causes of childrens’ delinquencies for many years. During the March Kentucky House hearing Schroeder stated, “Research on shared parenting is remarkably clear. Children who go through a divorce fare much better when they have equal, or as close to equal as they can get, parenting time.”
Parents fare much better also. With shared parenting, divorcing women are no longer expected to work all day and come home to their second jobs. Men no longer face sexist custody decisions while suffering lonely evenings without their loving children. Instead, mothers and fathers each have half their days and evenings to improve themselves through education, take care of family members and pursue their personal lives. Improving parents’ situations improves childrens’ outcomes and then the positive cycle continues.
Nationwide, equal parenting is getting stronger by the day. Significant shared parenting laws are working their way through their many states’ legislatures. Why wouldn’t they? Shared parenting laws are very popular and help children. We are heading toward a day when every state will have shared parenting.
Matt Hale is chair of National Parents Organization of Kentucky.