One of the best news stories to come across my news feed in a long time, is that it appears another state, is about to join many others in a major movement, making “shared parenting”, or 50/50 custody, the presumed position when it comes to figuring child custody. In Pennsylvania, HB1397 was introduced on May 6th, which will hopefully be approved, making a long overdo correction to Title 23 of Pennsylvania custody law.
Title 23 breaks down to seven different types of custody, and unless both parents involved in the divorce can agree, the custody is decided by the judge via one of these seven types:
- shared physical custody – the child gets equal time with both parents, just as the child had when the parents were still married
- primary physical custody – one parent has a majority of the physical custody according to the calendar year (often referred to the custodial parent)
- partial physical custody – one parent has a less amount of time with the child according to the calendar year (often referred to as the non-custodial parent)
- sole physical custody – the most extreme custody, denying any custody of the other parent
- supervised physical custody – the result of high conflict activity in the divorce or other legal issues with one of the parents
- shared legal custody – both parents have the same rights to medical and educational records and appointments (only as good as the cooperation of the parents)
- sole legal custody – as with the physical, an extreme ruling that takes away the rights of the other parent
As you can see, none of these take into consideration the rights of the child to have equal access to both parents. What exactly did either parent do to the child, for the child not to have the equal rights to both parents in divorce, as when the parents were married? The answer? Most likely nothing. The decisions are usually based on several other factors before the child’s needs.
- attorneys that feed off of high conflict divorce resulting in rich paydays (many times averaging between $50,000-$100,000 just for the original order, not including modifications that become necessary)
- proven or assumed risks to the child by a parent’s behavior (such as drugs, violence, etc.)
- revenge by the parent on the receiving end of the divorce filing
Only one of those three things actually address the concern or safety of the child. The other two are strictly selfish, and quite honestly, harmful to the child.
But under current guidelines, this is how decisions are made. And it is up to the parent on the shorter end of the stick, to prove their worth to have any more custody time or rights, even when that parent has done nothing wrong. The current law presumes only one parent should have the majority of the rights, even though in marriage, there were no issues. And it is up to the other parent to fight to restore their rights… as long as they can afford to.
HB1397 in Pennsylvania will do what so many other states have done after realizing that children need both parents, even in divorce. It will assume the rights to be equal for both parents as the starting point. This is a win for the children. It is a win for the many parents often on the end unable to see, or limited in time with their children. Of course, those against, the lawyers who will lose money in less high conflict battles for custody, and parents who only seek to destroy the natural bond between the other parent and their child.
HB1397 is a start. It needs to get passed and join the other states in this right for the children. But two other issues that need to be addressed and gaining attention rapidly, co-parenting and parental alienation.
Co-parenting is literally what it spells. It is raising the child in the same manner as when the mother and father were married. It means making sure that a child (or children) are prepared for the switching of households from one parent to another. Both parents are on the same page when it comes to medical care and issues of hygiene and puberty. Co-parenting is continuing to raise the children with the same rules as they had always known, especially behavior. Educational needs are still necessary to be supported equally by both parents, as well as family gathering or other special activities that both parents need to be, and should attend, whether school related or extra curricular. And finally, the most important factor of co-parenting, communication. Co-parenting is not one parent telling the other how it is going to be, but rather seeking input, for what they jointly feel is best for the child. Communication makes sure that there are no scheduling conflicts, or issues that may get out of hand before the other parent is notified and involved.
Co-parenting is not trying to get an edge over the other parent for favorite status with the child. Co-parenting is not seeking vengeance for the hurt of the end of the marriage. Co-parenting is not about using the children to make the other parent suffer. Co-parenting is not about finding ways to gain additional custody time, or worse, turn the child against the other parent. Co-parenting is not about quizzing the child about the other parent, or asking the child to keep secrets. Co-parenting is not using the children as messengers to carry conversations back and forth if the parents cannot do it themselves. Co-parenting is not manipulating the child financially or emotionally. Co-parenting is not eavesdropping on conversations. Co-parenting is not notifying the other parent when an event or medical issue has taken place after it has happened.
HB1397 will hopefully pass. This will also hopefully be the step forward to reducing the amount of conflict that arises in custody issues. Yes, there will be situations that need to be addressed by the courts, but not at the expenses of the innocent parents who have done nothing to lose their parental rights, or the children to lose their rights to equal time with both parents.
Parental Alienation… that is a post of its own.