I want to thank The Eagle and Maryann Carnes for the May 26 article on the Fatherhood Coalition. It was a well written and an evenly balanced article.
There are four general arguments against shared parenting that are perennially advanced. (1) Custody should go to the primary caretaker (Notes The Eagle: “In most cases, Judge LaPointe said, the primary caregiver will have been the mother, so it becomes likely that she will get physical custody” ); (2) Children need a stable environment and therefore should not spend equal time with both parents (Notes The Eagle, Berkshire Bar Association President Glyniss Mac Veety states giving a child equal access to her father, “makes a child a pingpong ball between two homes” and “is hardly in a youngster’s best interests.” ); (3) Children should not be exposed to parental conflict (Notes The Eagle: “MacVeety said the shared parenting legislation doesn’t address a critical issue — the inability of the divorcing couple to communicate”); and (4) Shared parenting is unworkable because it is not practicable giving the distance parents live apart from each other.
All the evidence indicates that these arguments fail for not adequately considering the importance of a father in a child’s life. A widely acclaimed major study by Dr. Robert Bauserman in the Journal of Family Psychology was recently published. It is available at the American Psychological Association Web site.
Dr. Bauserman examined all existing studies regarding joint custody from 1982 to the present, encompassing 2,660 children. He concluded “Children in joint custody arrangements had less behavioral and emotional problems, had higher self-esteem, better family relations and school performance than children in sole custody arrangements. In fact, all these children were as well adjusted as intact family children on the same measure, said Dr. Bauserman, “probably because joint custody provides the child with an opportunity to have ongoing contact with both parents.”
The data overwhelming demonstrates that children of divorce who are thrust into the sole-custody regime imposed by our local courts are wearing scars that will last a lifetime based upon judicial failure to comprehend and appreciate the ravages brought by sole custody.
As to the role of conflict that was amply discussed in The Eagle’s article, Dr. Bauserman concluded that there was less conflict between parents when there was joint custody. The Fatherhood Coalition believes that instead of simply observing the presence of conflict, there should be an observation as to who is causing the conflict, and the party guiltiest should suffer the loss of the child. As the law currently stands, a mother is actually rewarded for being disagreeable because this buttresses the argument that there is too much conflict for shared parenting to work.
As for the reason that shared parenting is impractical due to the parents living apart, there is an easy and simple remedy — do not allow the mother to take the child away from the father by removing the child to a distant locale unless she can demonstrate there is an absolute necessity.
Courts need to make shared parenting workable, rather than simply rationalizing that is it not workable in the first instance due to situations of their own making (i.e., letting a mother move), or by relying on theories that have little empirical support, or by intentionally making moderate or even minor barriers appear to be insurmountable. We need legislation to see that this happens. All the arguments by shared parenting opponents that appeared in The Eagle’s article failed to properly consider the benefit the child receives by having both parents involved on an equal basis and erroneously gave weight to things of substantially lesser consequence, and therefore fail to protect the child’s best interest.
Mr. Del Gallo is an officer of the Fatherhood Coalition, and is an attorney who practices before the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court of Berkshire County.