RE: Divorce: shared custody should be mandatory

From: Lisa Dusseault (
Date: Thu Feb 22 2001 - 20:24:42 PST

Well, I wasn't going to reply since I agreed with you, until I saw:

> You have a particularly pessimistic view of fathers.

Wrongo. I know biological fathers make great parents. I *never* used a
gender-specific example, let alone made gender-specific judgements, except
in response to one of your examples which used "Mom" and "Dad". Otherwise,
I stuck to "custodial parent" and "non-custodial" or "absentee" parent.

> 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

That may be, but I'm questioning whether that perceived benefit is there, in
the majority of cases. In individual cases, I'm quite happy to believe that
the very best situation for the child is having shared custody or
strongly-protected visiting rights of the non-custodial parent. But given
the fallibilities of human nature, are we sure that these situations are the
right ones to enforce in all situations?

> 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.

Why should the system be telling the parents what's best for the child in
broad strokes like this? Aren't there situations, including physical and
verbal abuse of children but extending even into lengthy bickering, where
making both parents continue responsibility for the child is damaging to the

I do think you're confusing what's permitted, with what's required, and
what's encouraged. The system may force visitation rights to protect the
rights of a moderately responsible parent to see their child. The system
may force custody when one parent is clearly less able to care for the child
than the other. But the system should also permit other arrangements, at
the choice of the parents.
If one parent wishes to cede custodial rights, perhaps in a humble admission
of their own fallibility or the best interests of the child, what business
does the system have in telling them that's wrong?

The system can tell parents when things are clearly wrong -- abuse, etc.
But when things aren't clearly wrong -- and an absentee parent isn't
necessarily clearly wrong -- the system generally can't do as well as the
parents in figuring out what's best for the child.


Digression. To extend a little further into my reasoning on why forced
shared custody is seriously difficult, it's because it seems not only are
the child's loyalties split between their parents, but also the parents'
loyalties are divided between doing what's best for the child, and scoring
points off each other. It's no longer a simple case of "we're a family,
we're all in this together". Instead, if the parents have _any_ conscious
or unconscious desire to torture the other person, or to "win", or to be
more loved, then joint custody can be a nightmare for the kid. Rather than
single-mindedly pursuing what's best for the kid, the parents may be tempted
to "score one" against the other, or lay blame. Their loyalties are
divided. On the other hand, if one of the parents chooses voluntarily to
relinquish the scene, everybody's motivations and loyalties are simplified.

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