It’s a new year and a new chance to take a serious look at how we are failing tens of thousands of children affected by divorce and separation through our state’s outdated laws. As divorce rates in our country continue to rise, now is the time to address family court reform and establish new ways to serve the best interests of the entire family.
Recognizing the proven benefits of shared parenting, Virginia recently made family court reform history. The state signed into law a mandate that requires the courts to formally consider joint/shared custody along with sole custody. In fact, the National Parents Organization in Virginia advocates for measures in the commonwealth that champion maximized parental time in the majority of circumstances.
In a disputed situation, shared parenting is the starting point to fairly place both parents on equal ground, assuming both are fit. The evidence of popular support behind this law is reflected in NPO polling. In 2018, Public Policy Polling, a national survey firm, evaluated a variety of voters on the concept of shared parenting.
Overwhelmingly, respondents agreed that it is in the child’s best interest to have as much time as possible with both fit parents in instances of divorce, and an almost equal majority believed that family courts were more likely to give one parent less parenting time.
Polling and scientific studies all come to the same conclusion: Shared custody is best for children in the vast majority of circumstances.
On the other hand, the uphill battle against disproportionate custody is evidenced in one case study of Ohio’s family court system. A recent NPO study revealed that 64 of 88 Ohio counties have a default parenting arrangement that gives children less than 20 percent of regular time with the non-residential parent. None of these counties consider offering a default plan for the children to be with the non-residential parent on school nights.
In the worst of cases, certain counties default to only allowing children to visit the non-custodial parent four days per month — even when more time is possible and perfectly safe. This inequality exists not only from county to county but state to state — and it is demonstrably detrimental to children. While your family or life may not be directly affected by these issues, consider friends and neighbors who may be working through these challenges. To deprive children of equitable time with two fit parents is simply unconscionable.
Please support the policymakers and parents’ groups who are fighting for court reform on shared parenting and consider championing social media initiatives that advocate for children’s proven best interests.
Stafford resident Eddie Rubbo is a member of the National Parents Organization in Virginia.