No one cares what a lobbyist has to say when dealing with a physical ailment such as cancer. Nor even psychological issues for the most part. But when it comes to the long list of ailments children experience due to divorce, those in power ignore the world’s leading researchers and bizarrely give credence to lobbyists instead.
Look at what just happened in Florida, for example. The powerful Florida Bar Association, through its Family Law Section, spent $105,000 hiring last minute “emergency lobbyists” to ensure the defeat of common sense legislation that would have modernized the state’s antiquated and unfair child custody and alimony laws. Even though the legislature passed SB 668 by supermajority margins, the powerful lobbyists for the Bar convinced Governor Rick Scott (R) to veto it — despite the fact that 110 world experts have endorsed shared parenting and it is favored by 70 percent of the population.
What this means today is that lobbyists are essentially defining the best interests of children. Child development experts, who have performed exhaustive research and studies, showing that children need to be with both their parents for significant periods of time to ensure their emotional health and well-being, are ignored.
The establishment response is that shared parenting — making custody arrangements more evenly split between parents — isn’t appropriate. Excuses are thrown around like “one size doesn’t fit all,” “every case is different,” and my personal favorite: “shared parenting is fine, it’s the presumptions that we don’t agree with.”
This attitude protects the current approach, which coincidentally results in paying lawyers the largest amounts of money — precisely why the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar Association opposed the legislative reform. The even sadder reality is that many honest family law attorneys and state politicians see the corruption and support this improvement, but are unable to overcome the power of the special interest group representing attorneys.
When dealing with cancer, every person is different; they have different body chemistry, the location or extent to which the cancer has spread is different, their body's ability to use its own immune system is different, their reaction to medications is different, etc. — yet there is still a set standard of care, from which doctors may then choose to deviate from according to the patient’s need. One doctor explains some examples of the standard of care, “...it is standard treatment to give antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia, and it is standard management to provide PCI or thrombolytics for a STEMI.” He goes on to list various circumstances that would necessitate deviation from the standard of care. This saves a lot of time and money, since doctors are not scrambling to figure out a different benchmark for every patient.
Psychiatric and psychological cases are even more comparable to the social issues caused by divorce. Similarly, everyone is different; has different abilities to process issues, different personal experiences and scarring, different coping mechanisms, etc. Yet, psychiatrists and psychologists share a common standard of care to deal with different mental disorders, from which they may deviate from in order to fit a particular patient.
Ever been to a doctor and have him or her prescribe you antibiotics or other treatment so quickly within minutes that you were surprised? This is because a majority of medical, as well as psychiatric and psychological cases, fall within the standard of care and do not require major deviations.
The reality is, there is such a thing as the average family in the U.S. It used to be mom, dad, around two kids, as well as the white picket fence, dog, etc. The majority of parental separations don’t involve abuse, neglect or abandonment, but simply a mother and father who both love their children. Since the research overwhelmingly shows shared parenting is best for kids, the majority should have shared parenting. But in most states, they don't. Arizona is one of a handful of states that has recognized how kids benefit from having more equal time with their parents, and so the state passed a law in 2012 telling courts to maximize children’s time with both parents. Of course, exceptions apply for abnormal circumstances, but lawyers in Arizona now tell good dads they have a 90 percent chance of getting equal (50/50) parenting time with their kids. Since implementation, this position has worked well for Arizona’s children, but it is being ignored by attorney special interest groups in other states.
More insightful still is the data being collected on child custody determinations and attorney reactions to that data. Take Nebraska, where a 10-year-long study found the average time children were allowed to spend with their non-custodial parent was a mere five days a month. If family law attorneys truly believe “cookie cutter solutions” are bad, where is their outcry about the apparent default of five days a month in Nebraska?
Amazingly, Nebraska is one of the very few states that has even gathered time-sharing data. Can you imagine going to a doctor (or psychiatrist) and asking what the chances were for their prescribed course of treatment, and hearing “we don’t keep any data on the success of this treatment?” Lawyers would immediately sue, and rightfully so. But when dealing with their own profession, the less lawyers have to reveal about the results of family court decisions, the better.
Let’s face it, lobbyists don’t care about children, and will advocate for whoever has the biggest check. Because many Bar associations derive their revenue from state law, requiring practicing attorneys to pay enormous mandatory dues, they’ve had the biggest check and most influence in determining the workings of family courts. The problem is we have incentives which are misaligned. Attorneys benefit financially from “arguing,” while families and kids don’t. As Bar associations have the money and lobbyists, they’ve ensured we have practices which work to their financial gain at the expense of children's’ well-being. It’s time we admit they’ve failed us.
Fatherlessness is now an epidemic which the family court has helped create. In her Father's Day column last week, National Post author Barbara Kay quoted a terrifying statistic, “U.S. family courts create a fatherless child every single minute of every single day.” Given fatherlessness is a precursor to a vast array of negative social, emotional, behavioral and developmental results for children, we should be addressing it with every means available. That includes listening to the advice of prominent researchers who have spent their careers studying what’s best for children, post separation.
We can either do the right thing for children, or the right thing for the financial interest of lawyers. Listening to the experts saying shared parenting is best for kids ought to be an easy decision for us all.