Divorce reform & presumptive shared parenting
The "normal" state-of-affairs
In most jurisdictions, the norm is still the traditional, adversarial divorce. The Courts' intent is not to harm the litigants or their children. In fact, they want to focus on the best interest of the children. But... the laws do not define what this best interest is.
It is then usually assumed that the best interest of the child is to be in the custody of the better parent. As a result, divorce is an adversarial process in which parents are encouraged to fight it out so that "the better parent" may win.
Society says this is the price we have to pay for divorce. The problem is, this is not just a tremendous financial and emotional burden for the adults involved. It is a catastrophe for the children of divorce. While one parent may "win" the custody fight, there is no happy outcome for the children: it is a foregone conclusion that they will end up losing one parent.
In fact, all too often, children are effectively losing both parents, in an emotional sense. The divorce battle is so heated that it draws the parents' attention onto this life-and-death struggle, away from the children in whose name the battle is being fought!
Fortunately, a new paradigm has been emerging over the past couple of decades - a recognition that children of divorce have the right to keep both parents. It is about steering the parents toward cooperation, instead of making the divorce an all-or-nothing fight.
Shared parenting involves both legal (the current "joint custody") and physical custody. There are no pre-set roles where the woman is the nurturer and decision-maker, and the man the money provider. Children may spend equal time with both parents. Regarding money, parents jointly budget for the children's expenses, and each pay equitably for these expenses.
There are no pre-set rules as to how parents have to share parenting responsibilities. While a 50/50 division of time and tasks seems like a reasonable way to start, it could be 90/10 if that is what the parents prefer.
The same goes for money -some people may opt to give their ex-spouse a set sum of money every month instead of being involved in the day-to-day decisions of how to use this money for the children (there are even married couples who function this way).
The difference is that this is a voluntary choice, not something dictated by gender roles. Several states have now adopted laws which call for a presumptive shared parenting; little by little, more will undoubtedly follow.
Shared parenting was almost unheard of before 1970, and it now accounts for more than one out of five divorces (Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control).
Of course, these laws make allowances for cases where one parent is unfit, and it is better for the child to remain in sole custody of the other parent.
Does it always work - for every couple? No, not any more than any other solution to human problems is 100% perfect for all situations and all people. But, on the whole, studies show shared parenting to be work much better than the traditional divorce.
And money problems - which the traditional system uses as the justification for its tactics - are actually much fewer with shared parenting. Government statistics (U.S. General Accounting Office Report) show that: 44.5% of fathers with no visitation pay the support due 79.1% of fathers with visitation privileges pay the support due 90.2% of fathers with joint custody pay the support due
Shared parenting fosters a relationship of peers - it is based on mutual respect, on respect for differences of opinion, and a common desire to overcome emotional difficulties in order to be good parents.
The parents learn that they can disagree yet be able to work out a compromise. The children have a model of how to develop better patterns of communication and problem-solving - ultimately, how to create emotionally-attuned intimate relationships.
This is in sharp contrast what happens in adversarial divorces.
The courts trains people to be adversaries, whereas the process of developing a parenting plan trains people to focus on what they have in common - the welfare of their children - and to find ways to effectively co-parent.