National Parents Organization has just released its latest report card grading each state on its shared parenting statutes. New York and Rhode Island were the only states to get an F.
F is not for Family Friendly. F is for Failure.
Per the report, “New York has no statutory preference for, or presumption of, shared parenting (joint legal custody and shared physical custody) for temporary or final orders...New York has no explicit statutory recognition of shared parenting, joint legal custody, shared residential custody or similar concepts."
States receiving As not only encourage shared residential custody but create a presumption of equal parenting by parents living apart. Many states fall short of this ideal, but give a legal preference for or strong encouragement of shared parenting.
But legislators in New York, like those in Rhode Island, have not even addressed the issue of shared parenting in their statutes.
What does this mean in layman’s terms? New York stacks the deck against one separated or divorced parent or another, making them jump through legal and logistical hoops to continue to play a major role in their children’s lives. Worse, it hurts children, often sidelining or completely erasing one of their parents from their lives. This is, in effect, a form of family separation.
Why are we outraged by what happened on our border and mute about what happens in our own courts?
The results of many studies confirm that in the wake of separation or divorce, outcomes for children are better when both parents remain involved, just as children benefit when both parents are involved in an intact marriage. This is so obviously straightforward that it should make our heads explode that in the vast majority of cases decided in a New York court, shared parenting is not the outcome.
As our summary makes clear: “In the 54 studies — absent situations in which children needed protection from an abusive or negligent parent even before their parents separated — children in shared-parenting families had better outcomes than children in sole physical custody families.”
In New York, we are told that judges are supposed to rule “in the best interest of the child.” There are certainly individual judges taking shared parenting into account, but the law does not require them to do so and, unfortunately, those good people are in the minority in our state.
Consider this, a sadly typical scenario: Monday evening, Jordan goes to bed with hugs and kisses from two loving parents. Later, unknown to Jordan, the parents agree that they can no longer live together, and they separate. Tuesday morning, Jordan is greeted and sent off to school by only one of them, and only one is there in the evening to serve dinner and put Jordan to bed. Jordan is told that the other will visit in a few days, or maybe a week.
Jordan’s need for the love and care of both parents didn’t change overnight. If Jordan can’t continue to live with both parents, why not make the best of an already traumatic situation and keep both of them in Jordan’s life to the fullest extent possible?
New York children deserve to have the continuing love of both parents, which also brings the continuing love of a larger extended family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins from both sides should all remain part of every child’s life. This is a simple concept that deserves everyone’s support, assuming we truly believe in the best interest of the child.
No child should have to be in a situation like Jordan’s. Separation and divorce are difficult under the most amicable circumstances. However, we can make it a little easier by doing what is obviously and truly “in the best interest of the child” by keeping both parents equally involved in that young life.
When both parents are fit and there is no abuse, shared parenting should be a rebuttable default in our courts. Judges should retain the ability to rule otherwise, but not unless one parent is demonstrably unfit and not without some accountability.
New York State must stop robbing parents of their children, and vice versa.
Blumenthal is co-chair for the New York affiliate of National Parents Organization.