On Tuesday, a Senate Subcommittee meeting was held to discuss SSB 3154, a bill that would create a rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting in child custody cases. I spoke as an associate of the organization Families United Action Network in support of this bill.
Currently, when divorcing parents walk into a courtroom, it is assumed that one parent will “win” and one parent will “lose” custody of the couple’s children. This societal standard has left generations of people suffering emotional turmoil all of their lives. According to fatherhood.org, children without their fathers are twice as likely to drop out of school and seven times more likely to become teen parents. They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and suffer poverty. I cannot overstate the importance of a child’s own father in their lives.
These heavy statistics are painful to accept when I look at my step children. My family is a blended one, where my husband and I both have children from previous marriages, as well as our own. I ache for my husband’s children each time they hug their sobbing siblings goodbye for yet another long absence. Four days per month is not enough time to create family memories, enjoy hobbies, and impart important values. What good reason is there for two empty seats at the dinner table most nights? Their mother does not wish to share parenting and fought their father vigorously in order to keep him devalued as merely a visitor in their lives.
I have another perspective to offer, that is as a mother who does share parenting, disregarding our divorce papers to do so. My two teenage children have enjoyed living as equally as possible with their father and myself for the entire ten years we’ve been divorced. Well-adjustment in having both parents involved in their daily lives is obvious. Their father and I have each had the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with our kids, offer emotional stability and maintain trust. Shared parenting works. My children wouldn’t have it any other way.
My ex-husband and I are far from friends. It’s a misconnection that shared parenting to work requires there be no conflict. Shared parenting does require maturity and cooperation, which can learned over time after the pain of a separation. Resources exist to help high-conflict situations, such as apps like My Family Wizard, which aid communication between parents. Money spent fighting in ugly litigation for control could be spent instead on counseling to learn better co-parenting skills. In the long run, two divorced parents learning to co-parent, sharing equally in the lives of their children, without one parent being the “loser” and “visitor” is certainly in the best interest of children.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Dr. Linda Nielsen, a professor of Adolescent and Educational Psychology at Wake Forest University, agrees with over 110 other social science experts and has reviewed at least 54 studies that overwhelmingly show that “children in shared physical custody families—with the exception of situations where children need protection from an abusive or negligent parent—have better outcomes across a variety of measures of well-being than do children in sole physical custody.”
Don’t let another generation of kids grow up missing half of their families. Don’t let another generation of kids become prizes to be won in a war where they can only lose. I urge our legislators to pass a rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting bill so that the next generation of Iowa’s children, who must endure a divorce or separation, can maintain strong familiar bonds that will benefit them for a lifetime.
— Jocelyn Jeffries Fry is a candidate for Iowa House of Representatives and the newly elected Chairperson of the Libertarian Party of Polk County