THEORY OF 21ST CENTURY CUSTODYGone are the days where mothers are viewed as the primary care givers. In Missouri, like many other states, the Court cannot consider the gender of the parent in making a custody determination. Each parent is considered of equal importance in the life of a child and each parent should have “continued and meaningful” contact with the child. While each parent’s exact role may differ, their importance in the life of the child does not differ. Children want and deserve meaningful relationships with both parents, so long as that can be safely accomplished.
The change to view parents as equal has led to a shift in the traditional custody plans of every other weekend. In Missouri, and many other jurisdictions, it is believed that joint custody is in a child’s best interest. That allows both parents to share in the health, education and welfare decisions for the child. That means there is a presumption that the parties should be able to share custody of the child and make decisions together for the child’s best interest. To be awarded sole custody in today’s courts is unusual without substantial evidence that joint custody is not in the best interest of the child.
Most recently, Missouri has a House Bill that when (or if) signed into law will make the presumption that the parents can share time with the child equally. The parents will then have to argue to the Court why equal time is not in the best interest of the child. The Court would be required to make specific findings as to why it is not in the best interest of the child to spend equal time with each parent. Courts are already ordering shared parenting more often when the parties live in close proximity and share equally in the responsibility of parenting. I suspect we will only see shared parenting increase in the near future.
The spirit and intention behind the push for joint custody and shared parenting is easy to see. Objectively, we can say that a child wants and deserves to have both parents actively participate in their lives. Assuming there are not true safety concerns. Each parent teaches a child different lessons and provides a different perspective, even when the parents are together in a home with the child. A child of parents who do not reside together should be no less entitled to the value of meaningful relationships with their parents.
VS. REALITYIn order to be effective at joint custody and shared parenting the parents have to be capable of real communication. Open and honest communication to present a united front for their child. They need to be able to share ideas and reach decisions together to benefit the child. However, these are often parties who are recently divorced or have a child in common and were never married. Either way the bitterness and anger are real after a split, and those two particular emotions are not helpful in effective communication. Although, we have all communicated out of bitterness or anger. The results are not favorable.
The opportunities to disagree and fight for what is “right” are plenty. The child wants to play football or take a dance class and that activity is taking place on “my time.” It is also taking place on the other parent’s “time.” The truth is children need activities to learn to be part of a team, to socialize, to find new interests, etc. It is their childhood, and if the parents were together both would be at football or dance. That doesn’t change because the parents aren’t together. This is your CHILD’S TIME. Enjoy it, together. You don’t have to sit together, but you can independently support your child from the same geographic location.
The other parent isn’t spending “quality time” when they have the child. They have to work or are in the shop working on projects. They don’t really spend time with the child. The truth is no one can make every moment they spend with their child “quality time.” We all have responsibilities that we must take care of when we are raising children. Those are learning opportunities. It is during those tasks children learn to do dishes, take out the trash, work on the car, do laundry and become responsible and capable adults. They also provide amazing memories. Some of my favorite memories are of projects I worked on with my parents. I learned skills I still use today. Just because you aren’t playing and going somewhere all the time does not mean time is not “quality.”
People seem to think as long as they are discussing these issues from a keyboard their child is safe from the outcome. However, that is far from true. If you are discussing your child custody case and the other parent on text, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. it is not a secret from your child. First, they learn to read and will read the messages on your phone. Many of them already have social media accounts, but if they don’t their friends’ parents do have accounts and see all your posts. Your “friends” screenshot the posts and share them with the other parent. Then the fight is on, again.
The anger and bitterness parents feel toward one another is visited on the child. They see and hear all that you say about the other parent. A child somehow can’t hear you say, “Clean your room!” from three feet away, but you go to another room on the phone and they have sonar hearing. I promise they hear what you say to others, and more importantly they sense the tension, anger, sadness and turmoil. The two people they love most in the world are constantly angry and upset because they are fighting over me. If it weren’t for me they would not fight, and they would be happy. How sad is that?
Shared parenting can be done very effectively, if you will put aside your differences for the child. It is possible to treat each other with civility and respect. It is possible to have discussions without calling names and bringing up every past slight. It is possible to always consider what is best for the child you share. That child is the best parts of both of you and deserves to feel loved and supported by BOTH OF YOU.
Shared parenting is not necessarily easy, but if done with a spirit of cooperation and maturity the child will benefit. The child will feel free to love both parents and to enjoy and delight in the diversity each parent brings to the child’s life. It is a combination of all of the experiences and lessons in our childhood that determine our future. We all want our child to have the best future possible. Your child deserves a future with many happy memories from both parents!