Father’s Day is fast approaching. That means Texans will be wondering what to give Dad on his special day. While a tie might be nice, or a new tool for his workshop, there’s a gift that’s far more appropriate, plus, it’s free. Better still, it’s not just a gift for Dad, it’s one for the whole family.
That gift is your commitment to contact your state representative and tell him or her to vote for the equal parenting bill that will come before the Legislature next session. That will place Texas squarely in the ranks of other states that have equal parenting bills on their legislative agendas. This past spring, nearly 20 states considered bills that encourage family courts to move away from the tradition of awarding sole custody, usually to the mother, when parents divorce or separate and instead more equally award parenting time.
Utah led the way on the movement this spring by passing a law that made sweeping changes in how parenting time is allocated following divorce. Other states, like Arizona and Wisconsin, have done likewise in the past, and no wonder. The overwhelming weight of social science now demonstrates that children, across a wide array of behaviors, do better when they have both parents involved in their lives. That’s true in intact families and divorced ones.
We’ve long known the many detriments faced by kids brought up by a single parent. Federal statistics show that they’re more likely to involve themselves in crime and go to prison, abuse illegal drugs and alcohol, do worse in school and be less likely to be employed as adults than kids from intact families. And girls in single-parent households are more likely than other girls to become pregnant as teenagers.
Children of divorce have much the same problems. Why? Because when parents divorce, children often lose the non-custodial parent – usually Dad. In Texas and across the nation, family courts seldom award equal – or even nearly equal – parenting time. Indeed, non-custodial parents are usually consigned to visitor status in their children’s lives. Typically, that means the kids see them between 14% and 20% of the time. In Texas, the “standard visitation order” allows the children to see their father about 22% of the time.
The problem with that is non-custodial parents who see their children so seldom often become what sociologist Susan Stewart has called “Disneyland Parents,” i.e. more entertainers of their children than parents. Unsurprisingly, data show those parents drift further and further from their kids as time goes on.
That’s bad for kids, because they lose a loved parent who once was a major figure in their lives. It’s also bad for non-custodial fathers who suffer the emotional trauma of being kicked to the curb. For years, they were devoted fathers; now they’re little more than a source of child support. That shocking change in their self-worth explains the eight-fold spike in suicide among divorced fathers.
Sole custody is bad for custodial mothers too, as much social science, including a new study from the Nuffield Foundation, shows. Mothers suffer a decline in perceived self-worth, but more importantly, all of a sudden, they’re saddled with almost 100% of the childcare load. Where once they had a husband who could tend a sick child, pick the child up from school, take the child to a ball game or read the child to sleep, now there’s only her. That responsibility means she’s hard-pressed to work as much, earn as much, advance as much or save as much for retirement as she otherwise would. So it’s no surprise that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about one-third of single mothers and their children live below the poverty line.
There’s a solution to all of those problems – equal parenting post-divorce. As Dr. Edward Kruk – perhaps the world’s leading scholar of children’s welfare following divorce – has written, equal parenting has been demonstrated to “preserve the parent-child relationship,” “decrease parental conflict,” “reflect children’s preferences about their needs,” “provide clear, consistent guidelines for family court judges,” “reduce the risk of parental alienation,” “protect children’s rights” and “protect parental equality.”
So for Dad this Father’s Day, but truly for the whole family, sit down and email your representatives. Tell them that equal parenting post-divorce is too important not to enact into law.
It’s the best Father’s Day gift you can give.
Robert Franklin serves on the Board of Directors of National Parents Organization and, as a Texas resident, is a member of the Texas affiliate of National Parents Organization.