It’s a sad fact that in the US, we have a broken family court system. It fails the children of divorced parents by essentially alienating them from one of their parents through unfair child custody arrangements. The good news is that there are several national organizations gaining serious traction in trying to change this.
One of these organizations is Leading Woman for Shared Parenting (LW4SP). Founded on Father’s Day in 2013, LW4SP is an ‘international child advocacy organization’ which supports ‘the implementation of a presumption of shared parenting as a standard in child custody determinations’. Boasting influential women from a range of disciplines, political parties and all walks of life (including the recently deceased Karen DeCrow, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the 1970s, and the conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly), LW4SP raiseseyebrows because fighting for ‘shared parenting’ has, until now, mainly been a ‘father’s rights’ issue.
The essence of shared parenting can be gleaned fairly easily from its name: divorced parents should be able to ‘share’ the parenting of their children, specifically in the sense that they should have shared physical custody of the child as much as possible. The US arrangement of ‘joint custody’ is not good enough, since in this arrangement the child is assigned to live with one parent, while the other parent is consigned to a much lesser share of access to the child.
The result is that children of divorced parents are very often ‘raised without the benefit of meaningful engagement with both parents.’ Children grow up without the opportunity to build a strong relationship with their non-custodial parent, not to mention the relationships with the grandparents and others on that side of the family. It is usually the mother that is granted physical custody, leaving the father more or less an alienated ‘visitor’ to his children.
This has been a terrible tragedy for children. There has been a growing amount of research highlighting the vital role that both the mother and the father play in a child’s life, which has been ignored by our judges and lawmakers until now.
Warren Farrell, author of Father and Child Reunion. How to Bring the Dads We Need to the Children We Love, and one of the biggest advocates for shared parenting, has been at the forefront of explaining why children need their fathers. He argues that fathers are vital for a child’s psychological, social and academic development. For instance, children raised without their fathers are more likely, among other things, to have poorer grades, run away from home, wind up in jail, and struggle with aggression. Another study, by Sara McLanahan, Laura Tach, and Daniel Schneider in 2013, has shown that a father’s absence makes kids ‘angrier, sadder, and more stressed,’ thus increasing their behavioral problems, which decreases their ability to achieve in other areas.
Yet, even though fathers benefit their children enormously, ensuring that our court system allows children to spend equal time (or, in some cases, any time at all) with their fathers has, until now, been considered a task for angry, alienated men.
The problem is that feminists have worked against shared parenting arrangements for years. The National Organization for Women (NOW), since the mid-1990s, has been openly hostile to the father’s rights movement. In 1999, they made it their official policy to ‘champion women’s interests in divorce and custody cases and counter the “undue influence” of fathers’ groups.’ Women, they argued, ‘were the real victims of bias in family courts,’ and apparently this victimization would ever be thus.
This feminist high-jacking of common sense and fairness set up a perpetual stand-off between men and women in the matter of divorce and child custody. The result was that many concerned women did not feel they had a platform to raise awareness of the devastation caused to children when separated from one of their parents, and men were left to fight the court system alone.
LW4SP has changed all of that. As women, they see themselves as stepping up and fighting for fathers (and for mothers) who have suffered the painful injustice of losing their children for no good reason. As LW4SP argues, ‘forced separation from one’s own flesh and blood in the absence of abuse is morally wrong and socially irresponsible.’ How thrilling to see a woman’s group motivated by a vision of justice and goodness, rather than by notions of victimhood and power politics.