Singular or Plural?
I have an acquaintance who, like me, has dedicated her life to helping children. This is something that we both agree on, the importance of parents in the life of their children. In fact, we agree on many things when it comes to parents and children. Especially, when it comes to those families who have been impacted by divorce. We agree that children need to interact with both of their parents. We agree that children are given to parents from God. We agree that God chose both parents as being responsible for the particular child in question and that both parents have a right to that child and a responsibility to act in good faith to raise them. Where we disagree is on a 50-50 split. She believes that dividing a child 50-50 will resolve all conflict and remove all court battles for that child’s family experience. I disagree.
The reason I disagree is because I work with parents in these horrible high conflict situations and I see the harm that high conflict can inflict on a child. I see this played out every single day. The worst of cases? Those who stipulated (agreed) to joint custody and/or 50-50 parenting time when they had no business doing so. In those families, they have some serious work to do before they will ever have even a remote chance of working well together. Neither parent will be able to fix the problem on their own and the other parent has no interest in working together on resolution. In those cases, a 50-50 split is not going to be a good thing for their child and will also not be a good thing for either parent. It will be a detrimental situation for both parents. Sole custody and limiting time for the parent who won’t get in the game may be the only resolution for that family, unless they want to constantly run to court or a court appointed decision maker to get decisions made for their child.
Why do my acquaintance and I see the situation so differently? Why do law professionals see it differently than feeling and emotion professionals do? Why do so many parents get it wrong when they talk about “parental rights”?
The acquaintance, whom I will now refer to as “Parenting Equality Bound” has studied Supreme Court decisions on Parental Rights. I have also studied the same decisions. She sees the law as a weapon. I see the law as a tool. Some of the work she has done over 30 years has severely weakened the law. I’d like to fix some of that and return the law to a strong place again. It is the weakness she helped create that is the source of many of her complaints about the law. It’s rather ironic. Because Family Law is an extremely weak and vague area of law, she’d like to do away with it all together while I’d like to see its hands untied so it can get back to a place where it works for people it is supposed to serve. Two different people. Two different ideas. Two different beliefs. Two different solutions. Two different perspectives and the only way that this difference will be resolved is if one of us decides to see things differently. That is unlikely to happen.
The reason for our different perspectives? I used the law as a tool to help my children and it worked. Someone very close to her in her life used it as a weapon regarding parental rights in a system that is there for the Best Interests of children, and it did not work that way. It rarely works if you only see it as a weapon and see it about you without regard to the children. Unfortunately, some parents only know weapons. Regardless of perspectives, law is law. It doesn’t care about feelings. We’ve tried to make it care about feelings and that has been a disaster for high conflict families whose feelings can be extreme and sometimes out of touch with reality. High Conflict families are the lens that both me and Parenting Equality Bound see it through because the cooperative families don’t need the help of law so much as the high conflict families do. The problem is that the laws have been molded into expectations of parental cooperation for the benefit of children and to date, we don’ have 100% compliance with cooperation.
The other day, Parenting Equality Bound and I were discussing new legislation she is pushing. Every year without fail, she pushes, and pushes. She has been described as a “bull in a China” shop. Just a few weeks ago she greatly insulted several colleagues that she has worked with for the last three years on a publication and I watched her lose all of what she gained in terms of respect. Any respect her colleagues developed over the three years disintegrated in one brief moment. She lost the respect of everyone on that work group, myself included. I stay open-minded with people and try to give them the benefit of the doubt, but what she wrote to the work group was simply outrageous and unfounded and just another example of how things have to be her way or the highway. It also showed the very narrow lens though which she sees the world. Many of the parents I’ve had to work with also see through a very narrow lens and because of it, they are not able to see the big picture in a variety of situations. During my conversation with Parenting Equality Bound, she asked me why I would not want parents to have equal rights. My answer is that parents do not have two separate rights to a child. There is only one shared right. She makes an argument that parent’s rights are 100% and 100%. That math makes 200%. I know the reality is simply 100%, which means both parents combined share 100%, which can be distributed between the two anywhere from zero to 100. 50-50 is only one possible outcome, but there are several other possible outcomes to choose from. I don’t understand why parents would want to be limited. From my perspective, they might be the one who should have close to 100%. If it was to benefit their child, why wouldn’t they take on more responsibility if the other parent is not capable of being responsible or child focused?
I used to see it the same way she did. I had my rights and my children’s father had his rights and because it was so painful to work with him, I just wanted to take my rights and the child over here and have him take his rights and the child over there and leave each other the heck alone! He had always been abusive to me and the children and he had also had issues with alcoholism. Someone with those kinds of relationship issues doesn’t make for a very reliable or responsible co-parent. Still, I tried to make it work and all it did was prove how impossible it would be unless the abuse and alcoholism were going to be addressed. Professional after professional wanted me to pretend those issues did not exist so we could move on. Unfortunately, moving on was not in and of itself going to foster an environment of cooperation in our case. I did everything I could do on my end only to have the other parent highly resistant to change anything on his end to improve things for the children and I started to realize, we really had zero care and control of the children. Because we were unable to figure this out and do it together, the court professionals held the care and control of the children. That was unacceptable to me. I believed a parent should take charge over and above the court professionals and so I made my case and was awarded sole custody. That corrected 95% of the problems my children faced by being stuck in a long, drawn out legal affair and under the custody of court people. Because of this, I still believe and will continue to believe that there are cases where it is better to have one parent take over the heavy lifting instead of leaving the decisions of children in the hands of court professionals. When 50-50 does not work well for the family involved, it equates to a childhood lived inside the overshadowing of a system. The family has no escape route until the children turn 18 and are fully emancipated. What 50-50 means is two half parents and in most cases, it actually means 100% court professional parents.
When families have two parents who can work out the sharing of divorced parenting, great! They should. Those who can agree to do it, do it, and it works well for them. They don’t need a court order to tell them what to do and they understand that parenting is not an exact science. They are sometimes willing to let the other parent take a greater role from time to time and sometimes they have to take on a greater role, too. It may not be fair and equal, but it is balanced. Those parents don’t want their rights handed to them from a court. They know that they already have their shared right and understand that with that right comes the responsible to their children so that no one has to do it for them. They also understand the concept of sharing. They know that sometimes you have to give up something to get something else.
The parents who cannot get cooperation without (and sometimes even with) a court order are the ones who have to make hard decisions. Can the situation work for the child and how much can they do alone to support their child and make it work? Sometimes one parent can do a lot to improve a situation even when the other parent won’t life a finger to make things better. They may be able to make 50-50 work despite the other parent. However, in some families, when a parent is actively working against their every effort, it may be time to put a stop to the sabotage. Sometimes that is the kindest thing you can do for your children and the parent who doesn’t know how to share because in reality, they are harming the children and themselves. I do not want to see sole custody go away because it can sometimes be the only thing that rescues a child that is being harmed. I also always believe that it is better to have a parent entrusted with the children rather than a system. I’d prefer there be two parents, but when that is not possible, it makes sense to have one rather than none.
Parenting Equality Bound never sees a reason why 50-50 won’t work. As I said, she believes that each parent has a right to the children from the Supreme Court of the United States. I’ve listened to lawyers try explaining to her that there aren’t two rights, but only one shared right. She will not listen. Through my research, I have also learned about this shared right. There are not two rights, there is only one right to one child. Therefore, that one right can be distributed between parents and in Family Court, that is what is done. It may be 50-50. it may be 25-75 or it may be 35-65. How it gets distributed depends on how parents can make it work best for the child or children involved.
Parenting Equality Bound continues to tell me to read the Supreme Court decisions. I have. I ask her to show me where they say parents have more than a “right”, in other words, when do they say parents each have a right separate from the other? She can never show me that. She will show me various SCOTUS decisions, which she believes offer parent’s rights in the plural, but everything I have read lists parents in the plural and the words “right” or “interest” in the singular. Does it matter? Yes, it does.
There is only one right to one child. Yes, there are two parents. Splitting the baby in half is not the answer. The answer has to be about the child’s safety and well-being. In the King Solomon story in the Bible, the only custody battle shared from God’s word, one parent is lying and manipulating and acting in bad faith. The other parent is able to be focused on the child’s safety and well-being. The bad faith parent doesn’t care if the child is destroyed, so long as she wins. The good faith parent is unwilling to allow the child to be harmed no matter what the outcome is for her. Solomon, the wise judge, gives the care and control to the parent who can put the child’s needs above their own. That is what good parents do. That is why we do need wise judges to make tough decisions like that. Part of the problem is that for so long now, judges have tried to make parents share and make decisions together because the child does need both parents. Some of it has gone beyond all common sense and good judgment. There has been a big push for restorative and social justice (with ideals such as equality) that have weakened the law in the area of families. The truth about equality is that we are all created equal, but we are not promised an equal outcome, especially when we act in bad faith or use court as a weapon that harms our children.
I would urge parents who believe in parenting equality to review the Supreme Court documents on the right or the interest of parents. Is it singular or is it plural? Is it a right you share with the other parent or are there two rights, plural? If it is truly one right to be distributed in the best interest of your child, are you placing a limit on yourself and tying your hands when the other parent acts in bad faith? What if you are the only one who is focused on providing a good outcome for your child? Might it be that you are the one who should take control away, not only from the parent acting in bad faith, but from a court who would prefer not to act, but has to act because the two of you have shown that you cannot act in good faith together?
It is a rare event when a parent gets sole custody after divorce, as it should be, but real equality is when each parent has an option to rescue their children from having court professional be the parents when one parent makes it impossible to get decisions made for their child.