Putting Dad Back in the Family Picture Following Divorce

By Daily Editorials

September 9, 2016 3 min read

Successful divorces are not an oxymoron. Studies show they are a likely outcome when the best interests of children are the main priority for all concerned. Missouri legislators should take a bow for passing a new law that helps ensure more successful divorces by giving fathers more consideration in divorce custody decisions.

More doesn't mean more than the mother; it simply means equal to her when it comes time for a judge to decide physical custody. Fathers have not had equal consideration in the past. They've been forced by the courts into a lower-priority position as judges typically assumed the child's best interests were with the mother.

Missouri, like most states, enacted divorce laws before much research had been conducted on the value of a father's involvement in parenting. It was presumed that a mother was the significant custodial parent and a father was the breadwinner, at best, and therefore did not need shared physical custody of the children.

Recent research has put the lie to that damaging theory. It shows that a flexible shared parenting arrangement, with children spending approximately equal time with each parent after divorce or separation, is the ideal. When physical custody is shared between psychologically healthy adults, children thrive. And that's what success is all about in this context.

Shared parenting encourages healthy child development, fosters better communication, discourages parents from giving the child conflicting information and reduces stress on the child by reducing parental confrontation.

The new Missouri law, designed to combat an anti-father bias, is the fourth of its kind in the nation. The Massachusetts-based National Parents Organization has led the battle for equal parental treatment in divorce court for two decades. Dr. Ned Holstein, founder of the group, said the new law will help families avoid damaging custody battles and allow them to heal from the pain of a failed marriage "from a position of equality and co-parenting."

Neither gender has a lock on good parenting. Or bad. For a variety of sociological reasons, divorcing fathers frequently have been stereotyped as the less worthy parent when divorce courts weighed questions of shared physical custody.

As the Post-Dispatch's Nancy Cambria recently wrote, Linda Reutzel of Cape Girardeau led the effort to change the law in Missouri. Reutzel said she was motivated after seeing firsthand the damage done to the relationship between her divorced son and his daughter when he was awarded joint custody but not as much time as the child's mother received.

Grandparents and other family members also suffer when they are separated from children in a divorce. Surrounding children with loving and competent adults — from father to grandparents, aunts and uncles — is the best way to help them recover a sense of balance amid the trauma.

REPRINTED FROM THE ST LOUIS POST DISPATCH

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