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For Father's Day, give the gift of equal parenting

Still wondering what to give Dad for Father's Day this year? Here's a suggestion: Write your state representative and ask him or her to vote to change state law to provide for a presumption of equally shared parenting post-divorce.

The overwhelming weight of social science over some 50 years finds that children do best when they're raised by two biological parents. The evidence in favor of two biological parents is so one-sided that 18 years ago, family sociologist David Popenoe called it "decisive."

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that when parents divorce, keeping both actively involved in the child's life is vital to the child's well-being. Dr. Edward Kruk of the University of British Columbia examined the findings of every North American study comparing sole and joint custody arrangements. He concluded:

"On every measure of adjustment, children in joint physical custody arrangements were faring significantly better than children in sole custody arrangements: Children in joint custody arrangements had fewer behavior and emotional problems, higher self-esteem, and better family relations and school performance than children in sole custody arrangements."

Seldom reported in news reports on shared parenting is the fact that children desire it. Dr. William Fabricius of Arizona State University found that 70 percent of adult children of divorce believe that equal amounts of time with each parent is the best living arrangement for children, and children who have had equal time arrangements have the best relations with each of their parents after divorce.

With the great weight of social science solidly behind shared parenting, you'd think that courts and legislatures would be doing their utmost to promote it. Sadly, existing laws and court practices often seem designed more to inhibit father-child relationships than to promote them.

Foremost among those is the standard practice of awarding primary custody to mothers. According to the United States Census Bureau, 84 percent of custodial parents are mothers, a figure unchanged since 1993. Thus most divorced or separated fathers are only visitors in their children's lives.

Putting Mom first and Dad last is not in children's best interests. Canadian economist Paul Millar studied the data in that country's Central Divorce Registry and found that "parental gender is not a predictor at all of any of the child outcomes examined, that is behavioral, educational or health outcomes."

In a logical world, a presumption of equally shared parenting would be the law in every state. So for this Father's Day, email your state legislator and ask that fathers be allowed to stay in the lives of their children after divorce. Dad will thank you for it. So will his kids.

Robert Franklin is a board member of Fathers and Families, a national family court reform organization.