Time to Re-Examine Joint Custody Arrangements? National Parent’s Organization Says So

Note: This post is not an endorsement or critique of the National Parent’s Organization, merely an observation and analysis of their position as to the impact of standard (limited) visitation on young lives.

The bulk of Mississippi Chancery Court judges are what practicing attorneys deem “standard visitation judges”. What, in fact, does this term refer to? To state it very bluntly, it signifies that one parent involved in a custody dispute is going to get the short end (very short) of the stick: time to spend with their own children. Although it is not common that separated parents live closely to one another to equally “split the baby”– sometimes this is the case, but one parent (dad, most frequently) is cut out of the bulk of involvement with their own kids. Does this make sense for everyone? Is this reliance on “standard visitation” truly in the best interests of the children who are impacted? The research on point seems to indicate that children suffer from such limitations in sharing near equivalent time with both mom and dad.

Although I confess that The National Parent’s Organization was, until running across the research in question, foreign to me, I will say that they make a valid point insofar that children actually do benefit from what more closely resembles joint custody. In Mississippi, joint custody is presumably in the best interests of children only when parents agree to it. Very seldom, if ever, have I seen a Chancery judge award close to “equal time” with both parents. Is this due to an antiquated thinking, steeped in the belief that children need consistency above all else? It is certainly subject to debate, if nothing more.

In a recent article that appeared on Foxnews.com, a professor Emeritus from Ohio State University, Donald Hubin, Ph.D, postulated that children are disrupted by standard visitation arrangements, which for all practical purposes are in fact, limited visitation schedules. Without expressing my humble opinion too frankly, some of the opinions Mr. Hubin presents are deserving of consideration.

Citing a recent study by the National Parents Organization, Hubin asserts that “The best research on the well-being of children when parents live apart shows that children typically do best when they enjoy substantially equal time in the care of each of their parents”. Further, he states that they do “much better” than children raised in sole-custody situations. Definitely food for thought.

In essence, the thrust of Mr. Hubin’s position is that children are better-suited to have involvement of both parents in their day-to-day activities; doing homework, getting ready for school, extracurricular functions, and the list goes on as such. His conclusion, based upon the “parenting plans” implemented in Ohio’s 88 counties, is that the courts are failing to adequately consider the value of co-parenting on a nearly equal basis. (The article title pretty well sums up his position, “Divorce is hard enough on children–why are our courts making it worse?). The last line of the article simply states, “Our children deserve better”. It is difficult to ignore the power in this simplicity.

In closing, it is clear that some of the thinking that drives child-custody judicial policy needs careful consideration and the ability to strip away preconceived notions that are rooted in tradition more so than logic and reason. While there are never simple answers to complex domestic issues involving children, it remains clear that putting self-interest to the side is often the key to a child’s ability to thrive. Hurt feelings are a given after a tough break-up. I would suggest that anyone going through a custody dispute fully consider shelving all animosity that they have toward the other parent. Even though they may deserve your scorn, your children do not. Consider co-parenting for the sake of your children. They will thank you for it later in life.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Family Lawyer with 15 years of trial experience. He lives in Northeast Jackson with his 8 year old son, Lucas.

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