Not every circumstance occurring in our culture should be subject to an election as if it were a constitutionally guaranteed choice; some conditions are, to the contrary, an inalienable right, such as a child’s right to each parent equally after divorce.
I had intended for my next article to be a definition of the Parental Alienation Syndrome, but that will have to be momentarily deferred. I felt the necessity to comment, instead, the shared parenting law in Arizona, and I must extend my accolades to Mike Espinoza for his indefatigable and self-divulging efforts to facilitate its passage. Being neither a politician nor a mental health professional, Mike took up the cause as a loving, dedicated, and supportive father who had become a victim of the PAS.
Why Equal Parenting Time After Divorce Should Be The Norm
When we select a partner it is generally on the basis of what my mentor, child psychiatrist Salvador Minuchin, labeled as “complementarity.” In non-professional terminology, it is how we each balance our strengths and weaknesses with those of our partner. In other words, we tend to select a partner who compensates for our weaknesses, and they likewise do the same.
It is, therefore, logical to conclude that the most appropriate decisions affecting children are arrived at when the parents do so collaboratively, with each parent drawing on their respective strengths and abilities. Neither parent must feel that he/she surrendered to the other parent’s will because the struggle to reach an accord became too great.
In my 17 years of practice as a family therapist, I have documented a wealth of anecdotal evidence that confirms that parental collaboration almost always facilitates the child’s optimal development and achieves the desired results. The post-divorce situation most assuredly requires the same parental collaboration so that the child continues to benefit from the strengths that had been provided by the parent who becomes the nonresidential parent.
Regrettably, however, this collaboration is undermined by our adversarial approach to the resolution of child custody. Sole custody tends to be more the norm rather than joint custody; and even in those situations when joint legal custody is awarded, the residential parent often usurps with impunity the authority of the other parent. And, of course, this selection is predicated upon having to make a choice as to who would presumably (and I emphasize presumably) be the better parent.
Despite the obvious benefit of parental collaboration to children, which the research is now supporting, shared parenting is not without its critics and controversy. For example, the Arizona Foundation for Women CEO, Jodi Ligget, qualified the applicability of the law to those parental relationships that have minimal conflict.
She further asserted that the basis for custody decisions ought to be determined by the standard of the best interests of the child. But as this author/therapist stated in her prior article, I maintain that marginalizing one parent while elevating the other cannot achieve the best interest of the child, except in those situations of substantiated serious social deviancy and/or mental illness of one of the parents.
Yet other skeptics of the law have argued that, if the parents were capable of engaging in a collaborative co-parenting relationship, they would have sought out mediation rather than litigation.
Let me respond to this criticism by drawing on the wisdom of my sociology professor, Edward Sagarin. It was 1965, and the class was debating the implementation of the recently enacted Civil Rights Act. One of my classmates offered the following analysis, “You cannot legislate morality. Therefore, the legislation will fail.” Professor Sagarin responded, “You are correct that you cannot legislate morality. But the Civil Rights Act is not about morality; it is about behavior. And behavior can most definitely be legislated and can be enforced with the appropriate consequences.”
Professor Sagarin was very wise. We must be judiciously selective, even though our government is a democracy, as to when it is appropriate to provide its citizens with a choice. The Bill of Rights, for example, which was frequently invoked by Professor Sagarin throughout Sociology 101, protects minority rights from abuse by the vote of the majority.
Equal Parenting Time After Divorce How novel!
I am advocating that there be no choice for sole custody or for primary residency. Such choices must be off the table, no option! We should deem, forthwith, that it be the child’s civil rights to an equal relationship with each parent.
When the child’s parents, who are generally quite law-abiding, rational citizens in all other aspects, engage in the destructive, adversarial behaviors that so frequently occur in divorce situations, it is only because they believe they can get away with such behaviors. And they usually do. Even the not-so-rational parent, who engages in alienating behaviors, is effective in achieving alienation because of the cavalier, indifferent, and/or self-interested professional who enables and emboldens her/him.
I am proposing, therefore that every child of divorce has the right to say, “I need and desire that the two most important people in my life continue to parent me collaboratively through shared parenting. I have a right to expect that you will subvert your animosity for each other to your love for me. Doing so will inevitably produce results which are in my best interest.”