My daughters often send me articles they think will be a good subject matter for our blog. The latest is an article in the December 15, 2008 issue of Newsweek by Susanna Schrobsdorff entitled, “Not Your Dad’s Divorce.” See entire article at http://www.newsweek.com/id/174790
Ms. Schrobsdorff, starts out by saying, “The traditional “Dad gets every other weekend” formula is logistically easier than what Jorgen and I planned. But ours is an increasingly common arrangement. “It’s not like it was 20 years ago,” says Dr. Leslie Drozd, editor of the journal Child Custody. “There’s no longer the same presumption that young children must be with their mother.”
Courts are changing as well; in the small percentage (5 percent) of custody cases that do go to litigation, judges are now more inclined to disregard gender and look at who’s the better parent, says Gary Nickelson, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “Now they look at parenting skills. Who took care of the children before the divorce?” Most often, children still end up living primarily with the mother; according to the most recent census, Moms are the official primary residential parent after a divorce in five out of six cases, a number that hasn’t changed much since the mid-1990s.
Nationwide, the proportion of divorced spouses who opt for joint physical custody, where kids spend anywhere between 33 and 50 percent of their time with one parent and the rest with the other, are still small—about 5 percent, according to an analysis of data from the 1990’s on post-divorce living arrangements by clinical psychologist Joan B. Kelly in the journal Family Process in 2007. But in California and Arizona, where statutes permitting joint physical custody were adopted in the 1980s, a decade earlier than in most states, the joint physical custody rates were higher, ranging from 12 to 27 percent.
Formal custody assignments don’t tell the whole story of increased involvement by divorced fathers. Research to be published in the journal Family Relations in 2009 shows that there have been significant increases in how much non-resident Dads (those who don’t have primary custody) are seeing their kids. In 1976, only 18 percent of these Dads saw their children (ages 6-12) at least once a week. By 2002, that number had risen to 31 percent.
“It’s likely that more fathers are seeing their children mid-week for dinner or an overnight. It’s a change that really started in the 1990s,” says Dr. Robert Emery, one of the co-authors of the Family Relations study (along with Paul R. Amato and Catherine E. Myers). “There’s been a cultural shift—a father’s involvement with their children is seen as important and positive,” says Emery who is the author of “The Truth About Children and Divorce” (Penguin, 2003).”
Her parting advice is the same as I tell clients, “The willingness of both parents to cooperate is the key factor in how kids adjust to a divorce. Gary Nickelson reminds parents that they should start creating a collaborative relationship with an ex-spouse early. “You’re not going to sign the child-custody agreement, whatever it is, and be done with your wife or husband. I tell my clients, if you’re lucky, you’ll be sitting next to them for graduations and marriages and all kinds of achievements, so learn to get along.”
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