By Gerri Elder
When parents divorce, no matter how amicably, children are affected. Even in situations when the child copes well with the change in circumstances, a divorce ultimately takes time away from the child for at least one parent. In some cases, divorce may even rob the child of time with both parents because of the increased responsibilities of the parent who has primary physical custody.
Some people believe that equal time with each parent is the best scenario for the children of divorce. In West Virginia, there is proposed legislation that would make the starting point of all child custody cases an equal 50-50 split between parents.
It makes sense, doesn't it? NFL defensive back and three-time Super Bowl champion Tim McKyer believes so and is leading the Shared Parenting Movement in West Virginia. McKyer and the Shared Parenting Movement group are pushing lawmakers to pass not only the 50-50 custody bill but also a series of bills that they say would eliminate a lot of the fighting between parents during West Virginia divorces.
In West Virginia and most states, the current model to determine child custody is based on parenting duties and responsibilities. With that in mind, experts say that West Virginia fathers are ordered to pay child support in 92 percent of divorce cases. The Shared Parenting Movement would like to see that figure changed by distributing the parenting duties and time spent with the children more equally between parents.
As a side note, there is also pending legislation in West Virginia that would make it a criminal offense for parents going through a divorce to knowingly make false accusations against the other parent.
Certainly the Shared Parenting Movement seems to be something that would benefit the children of divorce, but is it more of a fathers' rights movement? Since many divorce cases involve the mother being awarded primary physical custody and the father being ordered to pay child support, the legislation in West Virginia seems to be as much about economics as it is about the children, at least to some.
With a 50-50 custody split and equal parenting responsibility, the need for child support would likely be greatly reduced. If non-custodial parents achieve equal time with their children, their financial support obligations to the other parent may be lessened as they would be providing the support directly to the child while in their care.
Aside from the beneficial financial aspects of shared custody arrangements, experts say that fathers' relationships with their children could greatly improve. A team of researchers at Penn State have found that teenagers in families with divorced parents tend to be emotionally distanced from their fathers while relationships with their mothers remain unchanged.
This is not surprising, given that mothers are generally awarded custody of children during divorce, and fathers may become less involved in their children's lives. The Shared Parenting Movement is working to increase the time that the children spend with their fathers and hopefully bridge the emotional distance between children and their dads.
Certainly children with two capable parents deserve to have time with both parents, and now McKyer and the Shared Parenting Movement are working to ensure that the best interests of the children, as well as the parents, are served during divorce.