OP-ED: Pa. should join post-divorce shared parenting movement
More than one-third of our nation's states are taking steps toward allowing more children to grow up with both parents in their lives when parents split, and now is the time for Pennsylvania to join this crucial movement.
At a time when nearly 20 states are considering shared parenting legislation, Pennsylvania leaders and parents have the opportunity to learn about the importance of the reform efforts during a showing of the documentary "Divorce Corp." near the Pennsylvania Capitol on Tuesday, June 9. The film, directed by Joseph Sorge and narrated by Dr. Drew, sheds light on the ways in which the family court system operates as a "big business" that profits at the expense of families.
Fortunately, the state legislatures considering shared parenting — where children equally divide their time between parents — are offering a common sense solution to the alarming realities the documentary reveals. In Pennsylvania, an omnibus reform bill that passed in 2010 did intend to address some of the problems within the state's broken family court system. However, the results have not been measured, and Pennsylvania's child custody law has a long way to go on the road toward parental equality. I hope the showing in Harrisburg moves local families and lawmakers to action.
People are often surprised to learn how rarely courts award shared parenting. In fact, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers, sole custody, typically awarded to mothers, persists about 80 percent of the time, reducing the non-custodial parents, usually fathers, to "visitor" status in their children's lives. Thankfully, efforts to reform the system encourage courts to begin, rather than end, the conversation at shared parenting when both parents are fit. The benefits of treating Mom and Dad as equals are endless. With a level playing field, the divorce process is less contentious, leading to fewer court battles and significantly lower fees for attorneys and other legal costs.
Most of all, shared parenting is best for children — just take a look at the research.
As a recent example, this spring, a 150,000-person study published by the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health and reported on by TIME magazine found that shared parenting after divorce or separation is in the best interest of children's health. The study — titled "Fifty moves a year: is there an association between joint physical custody and psychosomatic problems in children?" — evaluated the mental health of children living in both shared parenting and sole custody situations when their parents live apart. It concluded the children with shared parenting — children spending substantial time with each parent — were significantly less stressed than children living with one parent a great majority of the time.
Not only do studies consistently show that children want and need shared parenting post-divorce, but also the statistics on the impact of single parenting are startling.
Consider the facts. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Census Bureau, the 35 percent of children who are raised by single parents account for:
•63 percent of teen suicides,
•70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions,
•71 percent of high school drop-outs,
•75 percent of children in chemical abuse centers,
•85 percent of those in prison,
•85 percent of children who exhibit behavioral disorders,
•and 90 percent of homeless and runaway children.
Clearly, it's time to add Pennsylvania to the growing list of states proposing to reform their family courts in a way that allows more children a life where they experience the constant love and care of not one, but both, parents.
Everyone interested in learning more about the state of child custody today as well as what can be done to begin reversing the unfortunate trend is invited to Der Mannechor, 221 North St., Harrisburg, on Tuesday, June 9, for either the 5:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. showing of "Divorce Corp." Admission is free, and the event is sponsored by National Parents Organization of Pennsylvania. I hope to see many of you there. Together, we can work to build happier families in Pennsylvania.
— Stephen Meehan is a member of National Parents Organization of Pennsylvania.