Sunday, June 12, 2005

Good Alabama law proposed

Here is some Birgmingham news and comment:
In the Alabama legislative session just completed, there was a bill (HB650) before the legislators that, if passed, would mandate joint custody for all divorce cases, except those where one parent can show that the other has been found "guilty, under criminal standards of proof, of a violation of the law which bears directly on the care of the minor child involved." ...

Research studies have shown that children raised in homes with chronic conflict between the parents fare better emotionally after a divorce if the fighting stops. Mandatory joint custody would force parents, who couldn't work together in the first place, to continue interacting. The conflict for the child would not end with the divorce.

For a time, the state of California ordered joint custody more often than not but returned to issuing primarily sole custody unless the parents agreed to parent together in joint custody. It is my understanding that the experience in that state was that forced joint custody didn't work. A generation of children was left in the middle of parental conflict before the precedent was reversed.
No, there is no study showing that joint custody didn't work in California. It has never even been tried with anything like the proposed Alabama law. All the custody studies have concluded that joint custody works best.

The proposed Alabama law is excellent. There is no other proposal on the horizon with any hope of fixing the current family court mess. The current system in Alabama and elsewhere of awarding primary custody to one parent (usually the mother) has two big problems (among others). It reduces one parent to the status of a visitor, and allows parents to use unproved allegations in a malicious way. This proposed law would neatly cure both, and cut divorce lawyers out of a lot of routine cases. (That is why the divorce lawyer lobby opposes any reforms like this.)

The columnist correctly says that studies show that low-conflict parenting is good for the kids. But she fails to consider the studies that also show that 50-50 custody is the best way to deal with a high-conflict divorce.

Some people have a hard time understanding why 50-50 custody would reduce conflict. One reason is that the typical 80-20 custody deal rewards the parent who is creating the conflict, and therefore gives that parent an incentive to continue the conflict. If she lets the conflict dissipate, then she risks losing her custody advantage.

Children don't like parental conflict, but 80-20 doesn't reduce the conflict from the kid's point of view. A 50-50 custody deal involves about the same number of parental interactions as the typical 80-20 deal. If the kids switch parents every week in a 50-50 deal, then the parents only need to see each other 4 times a month. Or none at all, if the handoffs are done at school.

The article also says:
The bill coming before the Alabama legislature in the fall would give divorced parents equal say over day-to-day matters such as choosing a doctor, choosing a school, or choosing a church. While it sounds reasonable that both parents should participate in these events and choices in the life of their child, it only works if the parents can agree or can come to a compromise. Many divorces occur precisely because parents cannot agree on these issues. Our courts might be inundated litigating day-to-day parental decisions.
There is no real reason why the parents have to agree on choosing a doctor or a church. Each parent can take the child to his or her own favorite doctor as the need arises. Choosing a school might be a contentious issue, but it is not a day-to-day decision.
One of the problems with divorce law is that it is primarily viewed from the perspective of the rights of each parent. The child typically has no legal representation except in situations of abuse. Even when a child has an opinion, he is rarely heard. ...

Some joint physical custody arrangements specify that the child resides with each parent every other week. Few adults would choose to live like this, yet we ask our children to do so. ...

Divorce is a lose-lose game. You cannot take 100 percent, divide it in half, and have either side feel like he got a good deal.
If divorce were really viewed in terms of the rights of the parents, then it would not be acceptable to zero out the rights of one parent in order to make the other parent happy.

I wouldn't want to switch residence every week, but my kids would prefer that over the current arrangement. They want 2 parents, not just a parent and visitor. The court has ignored the wishes and the rights of the kids.

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