The State of Missouri can truly boast of their “enlightened” political representation as state legislators took a bold step this week and passed legislation to engrain the concept of shared parenting into their family laws. The next step is for Governor Jay Nixon to sign the bill into law.
You may ask: Is this another one of those “watered-down” efforts we have seen before, where the change does not remedy the age-old “dad can’t be an equal participant in parenting” philosophy? Not at all.
The changes contemplated in the new law are exciting for Missouri fathers who have for too long been marginalized by antiquated twentieth century traditions of stay-at-home moms and working dads, operating to advance a maternal preference for parenting after separation. The old way of parenting was shored up by untested psychological theories about mothers and fathers that unwittingly led to a template of a “visiting” parent, usually relegated to every second weekend for a total of four nights of access per month.
The primary caregiver model became the default position without consideration of the quality of parenting, the psychological functioning of each parent, or the history and nature of the parent/child relationship.
Good parents were lumped together with dysfunctional parents because judges relied on precedent, a straightjacket that we now know has hurt generations of children and needlessly disempowered parents, usually fathers.
The proposed Missouri law challenges those outdated assumptions by injecting language that directly addresses the inequality that has reigned for decades in North America.
For example, the definition of joint custody will read:
” Joint physical custody means an order awarding each of the parents approximate and reasonably equal periods of time during which a child resides with or is under the care and supervision of each of the parents. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of substantial, frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with both parents;”
The bill also includes the following passage:
” In determining the allocation of periods of physical custody, the court shall presume that a parenting plan that equalizes to the highest degree the amount of time the child may spend with each parent is in the best interest of the child. The state courts administrator shall modify the Form 68-A Parenting Plan, also known as “Schedule J”, to reflect the provisions of this subdivision and to include that the default parenting plan shall include alternating weeks with each parent, unless the parents submit an alternative parenting plan.”
It is encouraging to see politicians embrace the most up-to-date research which overwhelmingly supports parents as equal partners in parenting after separation. Hopefully, other jurisdictions will wake up and recognize that conflict during divorce should not be used to eliminate what hundreds of social scientists say is the best outcome for children. Shared parenting. It’s good for kids and parents.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang