A study just published by the National Parents Organization reveals that most states have a long way to go to improve the lives of children whose parents are living apart. The good news is that there is a path to that goal—a goal that everyone shares—that is widely agreed on and … it’s free!
National Parents Organization researchers evaluated the statutes of all 50 states and the District of Columbia to determine the degree to which those laws promote the well-being of children by encouraging separated parents to share as equally as possible in rearing their children. NPO then graded the states’ statutes based on 21 factors that encourage or discourage shared parenting.
The 2019 NPO Shared Parenting Report Card contains some good news but, overall, the news is depressing. The average grade for all of the states is a disappointing ‘C-’.
More than a quarter-century of high-quality research shows that children of divorced and separated parents do best when both parents share parental responsibilities roughly equally—when children do not suddenly find themselves with one overburdened parent and one “every other weekend visitor.” In light of this research, state legislatures should be doing everything they can to encourage this equal co-parenting. It should be the presumed post-separation parenting arrangement.
Most states are missing golden opportunities to improve the lives of children whose parents live apart. What makes this especially distressing is that the path to improvement is not only strongly supported by scientific research. It is, as the Report Card documents, widely supported by Americans from across the political spectrum, regardless of age, race, and gender. And, did I mention, it’s free!
All we need to do is quit casting aside resources that can benefit our children. Those resources are the love, care, and hands-on rearing that both parents can provide, regardless of whether they are living together or not. Let’s stop overburdening one parent and sidelining the other. Children need both parents fully engaged with them.
And a presumption of strongly shared parental responsibilities when parents separate fits best with the modern family lifestyle, too. Parents in intact families increasingly share the responsibilities of raising the children and financially supporting the family. Our post-separation parenting norms should reflect this arrangement.
While many states are falling down in this area, some are forging the path to excellence. As a result of NPO-led legislative efforts in Kentucky, for example, that state has moved from a dismal ‘D-’ to a straight ‘A’ in just three years. Kentucky legislators nearly unanimously passed laws creating a presumption of post-separation co-parenting. These laws have proven extremely popular with the public and there is now evidence that they are reducing the trauma of divorce for families experiencing this difficult transition.
Legislators in other states, some of which are sadly lagging very far behind the times, should look at states like Kentucky, or Arizona, which also does well in this regard. There’s much to be learned from their successes.
A ‘C-’ average is just not good enough—not when it’s our children’s well-being that’s at stake. And especially when there is public consensus on a free path to earning an ‘A’.