If it’s best for kids to spend approximately equal time with each parent after divorce, then why is the “Disney Dad” schedule — every other weekend and perhaps a mid-week overnight — still being officially recommended in the U.S. court system? This question was raised in a recent , but there does not appear to be any clear answer, apart from a possible nostalgia for the 1950s. As great as that decade was, and as acceptable as it may have been, back then, to sideline fathers, there is a suggesting this practice has outlived its usefulness.
The Massachusetts-based National Parents Organization recently did a study of all 88 family courts in Ohio, which is said to be typical of the entire United States. These courts have state-mandated parenting-time guidelines. Of the 88 courts, 64 of them have guidelines that allow children to spend only two overnights, and 60 hours or fewer in a two-week period, with one of their fit parents. Some of the guidelines have schedules that prevent the children from being in the care of one of their parents for 12 consecutive days during that two-week period. And none of the guidelines allow the children to be in the care of their non-residential parent on a school night.
“What that means,” says the article’s author Donald Hubin, “is that this parent, now demoted to a second-class status, is never charged with ensuring that the children do their homework, get ready for school, and so forth. This takes one fit parent out of a true parent-child role at a time when it is more important than ever for children to be reassured that both parents are fully engaged in their lives — that both parents are doing the hands-on, day-to-day tasks of raising them.” Hubin adds that the long-term harms of divorce on children can be largely avoided if adults properly handle post-divorce parenting, but applying these outdated guidelines merely serves to “exacerbate the damage divorce does to children.”
On the bright side, three of the 88 Ohio family courts have adopted guidelines that provide children with equal, or almost equal, time with each of their fit parents. That’s 3.4%. It’s a start.
Weirdly, because the Ohio parenting-time guidelines vary according to county, if you’re divorcing in Tuscarawas County, the guidelines say kids should be in the care of each parent for seven overnights, and 168 hours, in a two-week period. For identical children in an identical family, just few miles away in Carroll County, the guidelines say kids should be mostly in the care of one parent, with the other having them just two overnights, and 48 hours, over a two-week period. This, says Hubin, is “capricious and bizarre.”
Old attitudes die hard, according to Ned Holstein, a founder of the National Parents Organization. Some courts are still influenced by antiquated notions, says Holstein, such as a 1979 theory propounded by Anna Freud (Sigmund’s daughter, a founder of psychoanalytic child psychology) recommending that children of divorce ought to have one parent who makes all the decisions, and the other parent ought to basically be a bystander, with no legally enforceable right to even visit the children. “We have to keep up the pressure,” Holstein says. “If you let up, you lose.”
For advice on family and fertility law issues, contact Shirley Levitan.