Re: Divorce: shared custody should be mandatory

From: Stephen D. Williams (
Date: Thu Feb 22 2001 - 17:08:00 PST

Lisa Dusseault wrote:
> When sole custody is really *sole* custody, then the parents don't have to
> bicker, bad-mouth each other, or clarify their rules. Even if the sole
> custodial parent has such poor judgement and impulse-control that they
> bad-mouth the absentee parent, at least the kid has only one set of beliefs
> to deal with. The kid can accept this until they're old enough to question
> it, as they do with any other beliefs their parents hold.
> The in-between situation is custody-with-visiting. This, I believe, is more
> difficult than true sole-custody, if the parents are bickering. I'm willing
> to be proven wrong, but not willing to be misunderstood :)
> > It allows the children to continue to have two parents. The current
> > situation encourages single-parent families in effect.
> Exactly. And I was saying that, even though it ain't PC to say so, an
> effectively single-parent family may be easier for the kid to grow up in
> than a bickering divided double-family.

I disagree. Easier isn't necessarily better. Bickering isn't
necessarily that damaging. One parent vs. two has definite
disadvantages. Replacing one parent completely isn't fair to the parent
or the child.

> > Although the
> > laws are far better than the appalling lack of legal support fathers
> > received before 1989, mothers can still effectively cut off fathers.
> > This is almost never in the interest of children and usually due to
> > selfish or spiteful reasons.
> Even if the mother is being spiteful and selfish, I'm not yet convinced that
> forcing her to allow father visitation is better for the kid in 99% of
> cases. What good can the father do in his limited time? Not much. What
> evil? Lots.

The uniform laws of the country now have teeth and non-custodial parents
can get periodic visitation if they want it. The standard time is not
all that limited either, at least not with modern busy lives of both
parents and children.

You have a particularly pessimistic view of fathers. In fact, even in
limited time a parent can make a strong impact on their children. Even
with little interaction there are good psychological benefits.

In my case (more of my soap opera that I didn't even think about
overtly), my parents divorced when I was 8 and my father ended up with
custody when I was 9 or 10. My father interfered with my mother's
attempts at communication (she had moved to Hawaii) and I ended up not
seeing or hearing from her for 11 years, until I was 19. Similar to
most parents probably, my father/stepmother weren't handling my
adolescence well at all so I left home, at 15. Now I have a 20 yo
adopted stepson who can't even pay his car insurance.

Obviously we all grew up in less sophisticated times, or at least we are
more sophisticated than our particular parents. Laws and rules now will
have a different effect than they did. We'd hardly recognize income
taxes and other details from the 60's for instance.

> Repeated caveat: I understand that forcing the custodial parent to allow
> visitation is only protecting the right of the non-custoidal parent to see
> their kids, whom they may help pay for. I'm trying not to think about that
> so much as the custody of the kids. I understand that the courts do
> actually need to think about the rights of all involved.

The right of both parents to participate with the child is directly
derived from perceived benefit to the child. It's spelled out in most
states laws that way (I bought a copy of VA's when I was divorced). In
the general case, the courts recognize the importance of both parents,
they are just very poor in how they manage it.

> > That's the apparent theory of the current system; I disagree with it.
> > I'll agree that there's a qualitative difference between sane, mature
> > parents and the probable remaining majority. Tough, find a solution to
> > that problem. Change the expectation. Teach them to get along and take
> > care of the children.
> Teach them to get along? Probably impossible. Glad you managed it
> yourself.

It's not such a stretch. People how are too far from civil in general
can get into legal trouble. Domestic violence is treated extremely
seriously right now (just as unfairly as custody I might add, the male
is always presumed to be the aggressor).

> You do raise an interesting possibility, namely that through forcing the
> custodial parent to allow visitation against their wishes initially, the
> non-custodial parent may eventually be able to overcome that resistance and
> be welcome as a visitor. Do you realistically think this happens in >1% of
> cases?

This is already status quo. All custodial parents are forced to allow
visitation no matter what their wishes unless the non-custodial parent
screws up enough or chooses not to exercise their rights. There are
more or less standard schedules, patterns, and accepted guidlines that
are accepted uniformly throughout the US. (The Uniform Child Protection
Act of 1989 or something like that, although a lot of the details are
not in the actual law. Child support formulas are however.)

My main point is that this exercise of visitation tends to erode when
the custodial parent has all the control and decision making and so many
presumptions in their favor. The state says to the non-custodial
parent: "Your responsibility is paying X. Oh, you can visit a little if
you want." No wonder fathers sometimes tend to listen to them. This in
itself causes both loss of interest and much of the angst in a divorce
with children: one parent who may have been participating heavily is
suddenly sidelined while providing, often, all of the financial
support. The system should be saying: "You are both still responsible
for this child.". It's a travesty to shred a father's role and then
complain later about their lack of participation or even support. The
presumption should be positive, not negative because, like many cases,
the presumption is often self-fulfilling.

As far as percentages that see both parents, I think it's much higher
than 1%. Being reasonably cordial has got to be around 20% also, based
on my unscientific observation of divorced parents (not divorces

> Lisa


Stephen D. Williams         Insta, Inc./Jabber.Com, Inc./CCI
43392 Wayside Cir,Ashburn,VA 20147-4622 703-724-0118W 703-995-0407Fax 

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