This article is the last in a four-part series of guest posts by Molly K Olson. A version of this article was originally published in The Mankato Times
Equal Shared Parenting Opponents have no credible research to support their position. Over the past 20 years, opponents have spewed every possible objection they can cook up; no matter how farcical, they don’t hold back. They just hope something will stick.
Opponents seem to tactically try to plant fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the minds of, so legislators freeze into inaction. That’s how they win cases in court; that’s how they smooth talk uninformed legislators into believing equal shared parenting is terrible.
I have heard every objection. Nothing surprises me. I can easily overcome every objection with credible social science research that supports equal shared parenting as producing the best outcomes for most all kids.
When supporters and opponents of equal shared parenting have tried to collaborate, opponents refuse to have an intellectually honest interest-based dialogue about their individual objections. After all these years, divorce lawyer lobbyists continue even to deny there are any problems with the lop-sided model that assumes one winner and one loser parent.
When supporters and opponents gather in tasks forces, the opponents also refuse to look at the research. Perhaps because they know they have no credible social science research to back their position.
In the 1980s, in Minnesota, divorce lawyer lobby groups opposed a rebuttable presumption of JOINT LEGAL CUSTODY. These groups pressured lawmakers, crying the sky would fall, and the safety of children would be forever jeopardized. They claimed it created a mandate that would tie the judge’s hands. They had no research to support their opposition.
The legislature did the right thing: The presumption for joint legal custody became law. There has been no reported damage to kids, and no proof of exacerbated conflict as a result of this presumption.
In the late 1990s, in Minnesota, the same entrenched divorce lawyer lobby groups cried wolf again, fighting against a presumption of PARENTING PLANS. These same opponents completely rejected the idea of parenting plans. The divorce industry lobbyists claimed that because divorcing parents often disagreed they would not be able to effectively utilize parenting plans or arrive at equitable outcomes without lawyers.
These same anti-equal parenting lobbyists claimed that parents were too focused on their own needs, making it impossible for them to focus on the best interests of their children. They had no social science research to support their opposition.
The legislature did the right thing: Parenting plan legislation became law in the late 1990s. Today, parenting plans are considered the standard, and best way, to collaboratively arrive at, and clarify, the parenting arrangements and minimize conflict.
Over the last four decades, in Minnesota, divorce lawyer lobby groups have remained steadfast in their opposition to a rebuttable presumption of JOINT PHYSICAL CUSTODY. In Minnesota, the term “joint physical custody” merely means there is a “structured” (aka “regularly scheduled”) parenting time arrangement the parents follow. Then, whatever parent has the child at any given time, enjoys “physical” custody.
Each parent has physical custody when they are the “on-duty” parent (aka joint physical custody). Seems simple, but lawyers and judges have twisted and confused that term to be something that is still fought over today. They have no social science research to support their opposition.
The legislature has considered this for many years: The term physical custody should be either: a) further clarified to ensure greater consistency, b) changed to a presumption of joint physical custody, or c) get rid of the label altogether. Even opponents of equal shared parenting have finally become weary of the battles over the physical custody label, and agree that getting rid of the label would be a viable solution. There is no valid reason this issue has strung on for 40 years without legislative resolution.
For the last two decades, in Minnesota, through every single legislative session for the previous 20 years, divorce lawyer lobby groups have viciously opposed a rebuttable presumption of EQUAL SHARED PARENTING TIME.
These special interest groups who make money off the conflict in families have continued to make objections that are sweeping claims, which have little-to-no merit. They hurl a laundry list of unwarranted statements and misinformation, such as:
“Judges should be making these decisions.”
Reality: Judges never talk to the children. Judges aren’t trained in what’s best for children. Honest, compassionate judges tell families they don’t want to make the decision; some recognize parents are in a better position to decide what’s best for their kids. This is now part of their standard lecture at the ICMC (initial case management).
“Equal parenting is a mandate.”
Reality: Every bill has been rebuttable, which means the presumption still can be contested. And every bill includes exceptions.
“Custody evaluators are experts, and they give solid feedback to determine the best interest of children.”
Reality: Custody evaluators are well known to be highly biased, very expensive, and they are accountable to no one; they follow no standards of evidence and are highly subjective; and, they typically spend less than 90 minutes with each parent and the child(ren). Yet, in that time, they make decisions that impact a child for a lifetime. Unacceptable.
“Parents in conflict can’t co-parent.”
Reality: The research shows that lop-sided winner-take-all parenting time schedules increase conflict, and research shows equal parenting reduces friction and has a better chance of protecting the child from conflict.
“Kids can’t go back and forth between two homes – they need stability.”
Reality: The research is clear, going back and forth between two homes is well worth the benefits for children when it means maintaining close ties and regular involvement with both parents.
The list of objections from divorce lawyer lobby groups goes on.
Reality: All their objections lack research and defy common sense.
Since approximately 2007, equal parenting adversaries have found one researcher they hang their hat on.
On the rare occasion they provide any research at all, opponents almost exclusively, directly or indirectly, rely on Australian Jennifer McIntosh. Her research was quickly challenged and thoroughly debunked by the research community in the United States.
Arguments used against equal shared parenting that rely on the conclusions or recommendations of Jennifer McIntosh have zero credibility in the social science community. McIntosh should have no credibility with legislators. The work of McIntosh has been labeled as junk science that may border intentional fraud to mislead lawmakers. McIntosh’s work fails on many levels, to name just a few:
McIntosh has been critiqued and refuted for her invalid measures and numerous flaws by at least one dozen scholars. One scholar had 110 experts in the field co-sign his article in support of his conclusions against McIntosh and in favor of sharing overnights as equally as possible.
McIntosh’s conclusions in her two AFCC articles are misrepresented as a “consensus” of a large group of practitioners when it was merely the opinions of the three authors after their large group failed to achieve consensus.
McIntosh magnifies negative outcomes, which she claims to derive from her research when those outcomes are not scientifically supported in her research or other research she quotes.
McIntosh’s work cannot be generalized to the majority of family court cases because they were either small sample sizes or very narrow demographics.
Any argument that relies on McIntosh to oppose equal shared parenting fails. It should be considered malpractice for any practitioner who directly or indirectly uses the research, conclusions, or recommendations of McIntosh to restrict a child’s access at any age to a fit, loving, responsible father.
Now, the legislature in Minnesota and across the country can do the right thing for children again: Ignore divorce lawyer lobby groups. Pass equal shared parenting as a starting place for fit parents, with exceptions, as outlined by those educated in the best research on children.
I have always been willing to share the research with critical thinkers who are willing to be changed by new information, and who seek the truth to make the right decisions for children. Opponents would rather ignore the research. Those who represent divorce lawyer special interest groups have no meaningful defense against the equal involvement of both fit, loving, responsible parents. Divorce lawyer lobby groups are not the modern-day saviors of children.
A rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting in law will bring parents to the “bargaining table” on an even playing field. An equitable position encourages and produces more win-win private agreements.
With a presumption of equal shared parenting, divorcing and separated parents will need divorce lawyers about as much as vacationers
While they are not extinct, and there is still a use for them, most people have the skills to take care of most details themselves. Is it any wonder the lobbyists hired to support the divorce industry are opposed to equal shared parenting? Follow the money.