In 2007 mothers accounted for the majority of custodial parents (82.6 percent), statistically unchanged from 1994.[fn1] In the USA 40% of all children are growing up completely fatherless.[fn2] Although there has been significant research findings that more father involvement in children's lives is in their best interest it has been ignored by the courts. Much of this developed following a strong push beginning in the 1990's but through 2007 appears to have had no impact.
The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines are based on the premise that it is usually in a child’s best interest to have frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with each parent. It is assumed that both parents nurture their child in important ways, significant to the development and well being of the child.[fn3]
Unless special circumstances exist, preserving a healthy and ongoing relationship between children and both parents after divorce or separation is of greatest importance. Positive involvement with both parents furthers the child's emotional and social development, academic achievement, and overall adjustment. Adult children of divorce describe the loss of contact with a parent and conflict between their parents as the most painful part of divorce or parental separation.[fn4]
Father-child interaction, like mother-child interaction, has been shown to promote the positive physical, social, emotional, and mental development of children.[fn5] Children growing up under post-divorce Shared Parenting proved to be less depressed, exhibited less unadjusted behaviours, and achieved better school results than children growing up in post-divorce sole care.[fn6]
Armed with this valuable information that children, in fact, do need both parents courts have done little to assuage the lack of father involvement in children's lives for the past 15 years. In data analyzed 15 years ago judges showed a strong preference for maternal custody and tended to oppose joint physical custody.[fn7] Still, in 5 out of every 6 instances the children are in the sole custody of their mothers. Often times this occurs even though the father had been the primary care-giver, wanted to maintain significant involvement in the child's life or had not been shown to be unfit.
A majority (81.7 percent) of the 6.4 million custodial parents due child support payments in 2007 had arrangements for joint child custody or visitation privileges with the noncustodial parent. Ironically, this is a decrease from 1993, when 85.6 percent of custodial parents due support had joint custody or visitation arrangements.[fn1] The level of Shared Parenting arrangements is actually decreasing.
We know that children raised in single-parent families are more likely than children raised in 2-parent families to do poorly in school, have emotional and behavioral problems, become teenage parents, commit crimes, smoke cigarettes, abuse drugs and alcohol, and have poverty-level incomes as adults.[fn8] It would then seem best to attempt to replicate that in fractured families. To do this children should be in the care of both parents on a nearly equal basis.
Although Indiana makes no presumption favouring either parent when determining custody following a dissolution of marriage[fn9] the custody arrangements in Indiana nearly equal those of the country as a whole.
The percentage of custodial mothers who had child support agreements or awards was 59.8 percent in 1994, reaching 64.2 percent in 2004. Since that time, the percentage has declined to 56.9 percent in 2008. The proportion of custodial fathers with child support agreements or awards has historically been lower than the proportion of custodial mothers and continued to be lower in 2008 (40.4 percent).[fn1] Courts still remain reticent to order mothers to pay money to fathers on behalf of the children to assist in providing for the care and support of the children.
Mother's are therefore more likely to provide in-kind support which is done in 2/3's of cases. At least one type of non-cash support, such as gifts or coverage of expenses, was received by 57.6 percent of all custodial parents on behalf of their children. The proportion of custodial mothers receiving non-cash support (55.8 percent) was lower than that of custodial fathers (66.6 percent).[fn1]
In-kind child support has been an indicator of greater non-custodial parent involvement in the child's life. Those parents who provide actual support[fn10] are more likely to also provide the positive physical, social, emotional, and mental development of their children.
From child-research in which children themselves are questioned on their preferences it becomes clear that children themselves also most prefer Shared Parenting and care from both their parents after separation.[fn11]
Joint custody couples reported less current conflict which is important because of the concern that joint custody can be harmful by exposing children to ongoing parental conflict. In fact, it was the sole-custody parents who reported higher levels of current conflict.[fn12] Conflict was highest at middle levels of parenting time such as guideline minimums and lower when father contact was very high as in equal physical custody.[fn13]
The absence of a father and the introduction of a mother's boyfriend can have alarming results. Children in step-families are at increased risk for experiencing physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.[fn14] Children, especially boys, growing up in single parent mother-headed families are at 2 to 2.5 times the risk of child sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional and mental abuse and neglect by either the mother herself or her “new friend”, the so-called “stepparent”.[fn15] It is hypothesized that the sexual abuse of boys by a step-father is motivated from an effort to establish male-dominance in the household. This is much the same as prison rape which is not about sex but about establishing a hierarchy among the males.
Children are in desperate need of child custody reform that will result in more Shared Parenting orders and agreements. The level of post-marriage or separation custody arrangements in which the mother is granted sole custody has remained steady at about 5 out of 6 cases over the past 15 years. At the same time incidents of child-maltreatment, abuse and neglect in these situations remains stubbornly high.
fn1 - US Census Bureau - Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007, Timothy S Grall, 11/2009.
fn2 - Newsweek figures from January 2006.
fn3 - Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines - Preamble, As amended Sep. 10, 2007, effective Jan. 1, 2008.
fn4 - Planning for Parenting Time: Arizona's Guide for Parents Living Apart - Message to Parents, 2009.
fn5 - Responsible Father and Healthy Families Act of 2009 - Finding 3.
fn6 - From a Harvard study on 517 separation families over a period of 4 years (Buchanan, MacCoby, Dornbusch, 1996.
fn7 - Stamps, Kunen, & Rock-Facheux, 1997.
fn8 - Responsible Father and Healthy Families Act of 2009 - Finding 11.
fn9 - IC 31-17-2-8 The court shall determine custody and enter a custody order in accordance with the best interests of the child. In determining the best interests of the child, there is no presumption favoring either parent.
fn10 - IC 35-46-1-1(a) defines "support" as food, clothing, shelter and medical care.
fn11 - Fabricius, 2003.
fn12 - Gunnoe & Braver, 2001.
fn13 - King and Heard, 1999.
fn14 - Daly, M., & Wilson, M., 1985. Child abuse and other risks of not living with both parents. Ethnology and Socio-Biology, 6, 197-210.
fn15 - Holmes, 2007; AMK, 1999, 2000, 2001.
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