RE: Divorce: shared custody should be mandatory

From: Lisa Dusseault (
Date: Thu Feb 22 2001 - 17:25:40 PST


You know more than I do about the legal situation in this country, so I'll
move the discussion to the psychological aspects of the decision-making
tree. I think we agree with each other more than disagree, btw.

> > - Mom and Dad have to be _incredibly_ circumspect about asking or
> > commenting about each others new lives (loves) in order not to cause
> > conflict in the child
> That's no different than under the present system, actually.

I wasn't contrasting shared-custody to the present system of
custody-plus-frequent-visiting-rights. I was contrasting shared-custody to
the situation of the non-custodial parent being an absentee parent by
_choice_. I understand that the state cannot force the non-custodial parent
to be absentee, but in many situations that arises naturally.

When the non-custodial parent is not there 99% of the time, the kid may be
able to form a clear allegiance. The kid can learn that since custodial
parent is whom they spend their time with, they better follow their rules.
But I agree that as long as the non-custodial parent is in the kids life to
any significant degree, parents ought to behave circumspectly.

Situations where the divorce is highly unfriendly, either or both of the
parents are acting immaturely, and yet the custodial parent is forced to
allow the other to see the kid one day a week, are probably the worst for
the kid. Even if the custodial parent shares the blame for the immature and
unfriendly behaviour, the kid may be better off if the non-custodial parent
would just disappear. (Again, I understand that the non-custodial parent
has rights, so this would probably have to be their free choice. My
overwhelming tendency is to only consider the welfare of the child, not the
rights of the parents, but I try to fight that tendency.)

> The assumption here seems to be that neither parent really gives
> a crap about the child, only themselves. Coordination (and by
> implication communication) should result in only one general set
> of rules if both parents really give a damn about how the child
> develops, instead of being control freaks with their own belief

Of course coordination should work well. IMHO, it more often fails than
And, I'm not assuming that the parents don't give a crap about the child.
I'm assuming that either:
 - one of the parents doesn't give a crap about the child (it only takes one
to screw up the situation)
 - one of the parents has anger issues and poor impulse control, thus
bad-mouths the other parent
 - one of the parents has guilt issues and poor impulse control, thus bribes
the kid with money or lax rules
 - one of the parents has control issues...
etc, etc etc

Basically, I'm assuming the parents are human, have failings.

> (the child). Which often develops after the usual initial rancor
> of the breakup wears off - can take years, though, for the
> parents to grow up enough to do this.

You think this can develop after years? In my admittedly small experience,
the patterns set early last long after the initial rancor has worn off. If
the kid is better able to deal with the situation in later years, it's
probably because the kid has grown up, not because the parents have.

> > - Grandparents, aunts/uncles, other relatives of the kid can cause
> > nastiness even if the parents are behaving
> >
> Again, true in the present arrangements as well.

Again, I'm contrasting the joint-custody situation to an absentee-parent
situation. The NCP's relatives wouldn't be involved enough in the kid's
life to screw it up; the CCP's relatives may be involved but the kid can
develop clear allegiances, at least until the age when the kid starts
rebelling against absolutely everything.

> This misses what the child needs. Girls and boys go through
> differing "allegiance phases" with both parents as they grow up,
> and need both parents available for best results. Once into
> adolescence, girls tend to hang w/Mom and boys w/Dad, from what
> I've seen. Of course by then both parents are always wrong anyway. 8^)

Right, but kids don't need a biological parent around in order to do this.
A boy can transfer allegiance from Mom to Step-Dad, or to Older Brother, or
to Uncle. Girls I haven't seen this much, but the same holds true.

Now after all this I'm probably coming off as holding a much stronger
position than I actually do -- because of course I'm contrasting my
arguments to yours and eliding all the points where I agree with you. In
fact, I do worry that a non-biological parent is likely to have less
investment in their kids welfare. Unfortunately, with a divorce, it seems
to be a situation of picking the least bad of a set of bad alternatives:
messy custody, absentee parent, non-biological step-parents, blah blah blah.

> And, yes, I've seen exceptions to all these things. I'm talking
> about the situations in the fat part of the bell curve here, not
> the lunatic fringes.

Right. obviously, I'm more pessimistic than you, because I assume that in
the fat part of the bell curve, you'll see parents who have poor impulse
control or poor judgement, and let their anger or guilt or control issues
override their genuine concern for the kids welfare, and make the divorce
more difficult than it needs to be for the kid.


BTW, I'm not saying that the courts should give one parent custody and tell
the non-custodial parent 'hands off'. Even if that end-result would be
better for the kid in a bitter-divorce-situation, in reality the end-result
would be so costly to achieve, through protracted court battles, that it
would be counter-productive. It could also be considered to unfairly
restrict the non-custodial parent's rights. Telling them that they are
entitled to certain visiting rights at least gets the divorce and custody
issues resolved through compromise.

What I'm saying is that if the non-custodial decides to leave, be absentee,
knowing that the remaining is capable and will have an easier job of it
alone, then society (and the courts!) should allow that.

What you're saying (I hope I understand correctly) is that if the parents
are divorcing but amicable enough to be able to share custody & carefully
continue raising the kid together, then the courts (and society!) should
allow that. I agree.

Here's a curious gray area. Should the custodial parent be able to cut a
deal, waiving child support in return for severely curtailed or non-existent
visiting rights?


Aside: I've been having a similar argument in private email with a friend.
One of my contentions is that Social Science has so few means of conducting
tests and finding hard data, that the respect we accord to "experts" in
child-rearing and similar sociological fields may be misplaced. Current
sociological trends seem to prefer joint custody. Is this based on theory?
Probably, since data is so hard to come by -- you can't even do
demographical or population tests since the subjects are so self-selecting.
For example, it's silly to claim that "children do better in a joint-custody
situation" is backed by data, because:
 - we don't even know how to measure "children do better" yet
 - joint-custody situations are self-selected by parents who can agree on at
least that.

- L

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