The Case Against Presumed Equal Shared Parenting

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Case Against Presumed Equal Shared Parenting
Kate Harveston

Recently, an article was published on National Post in which the author posits that Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer should make supporting presumed equal shared parenting (ESP) a policy position.
Presumed equal shared parenting is a hot issue right now all over the world, as many believe that men are not receiving equal access to their children after a divorce. A battle over custody can quickly turn dirty — separating when there are children involved is never easy. Some see the solution to this problem as implementing presumed equal shared parenting. In other words, both the mother and the father would automatically get custody.
While an appropriate choice in some situations, ESP might not always represent the best interest of both parties in all scenarios. Let’s jump into why I don’t agree with this plan.

What is Equal Shared Parenting?
When a couple with children divorce, they have to consider who will retain custody of the children. In some situations, both parents acknowledge custody should split in a way so both parties can have a say in the child’s upbringing. However, some situations call for a serious debate.

In most cases, the mother gains custody of the children. This outdated notion views women as the mother and the father as the breadwinner of the family. In other words, the mother retains custody of the children because the court views her as already raising the children anyway, while the father works.

Supporters of equal shared parenting, like Barbara Kay, argue this idea as outdated and incorrect. It is not fair to assume the father as absent in the child’s life, and therefore, they should receive the same rights to custody as the mother. It also considers fathers may stay at home while mothers head off to work, or that both the mother and the father share the responsibilities of maintaining a home and raising a family.

Equal shared parenting aims to help both children and fathers during a separation. By preventing the mother from assuming complete custody of the children, children of divorce can still grow up with a father in their lives, and fathers can remain a part of raising their kids. This can improve the happiness and mental health benefits of both parties.

While I recognize the truth in this, equal shared parenting presents a number of other problems – ones that could put the children at a real risk of danger.

The Problem With Equal Shared Parenting

Equal shared parenting assumes both parents deserve equal parts of the parenting responsibilities unless a clear reason states why they should not. This means while they recognize in instances of abuse that the abusive parent should not have parenting rights, it may also mean children may slip through the cracks and remain around their abuser.

With ESP, a mother and her legal team would need to prove without any question that abuse occurred between the father and the children. In many cases, the abuse could be emotional or otherwise difficult to prove. If a mother cannot come up with efficient evidence, the father would still retain equal parenting rights.
This idea can pose dangerous threats to families at an already sensitive time. Many abuse victims don’t take the necessary steps to record and report instances of abuse. Whether scared of retaliation or they believe it won’t happen again, abuse victims don’t necessarily document their circumstances. Unless they happen to still show signs of the abuse or a situation happens during the court process, it remains nearly impossible for the mother to prove.

This can have incredibly an incredibly detrimental impact on children throughout their lives. In addition to the mental illness risk associated with fear and not being heard, growing up in an abusive household has also been linked to increased physical medical conditions throughout life.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study found that around 64 percent of their 17,000 participants had experienced at least one exposure to trauma at home. The results linked childhood exposure to violence, abuse and impaired caregivers with conditions such as cancer, heart disease and early death.

Without ESP, both parents must state their case as to why they should have custody of the child. This allows for more freedom between the separation and more flexibility, giving parents the option to share different kinds of custody. However, even with the different types of child custody, including varying levels of involvement, some children would remain safer and better off with no involvement from their abusive parent.

Dealing With Custody Agreements in a Separation

There is no clear answer to handling a custody separation. With everyone’s lives and livelihood at stake, it can prove overwhelming and challenging to come up with the right answer. However, looking at each situation on a case by case basis is important for any family.

Although many men feel treated unfairly in a custody case, this isn’t really true. Assuming fathers automatically deserve shared custody may grant some fathers more than they deserve. This may not improve the circumstances of the fathers who do deserve to be a part of their children’s lives.

Making it more difficult for mothers to prove that their spouse has been abusive to the children may cause them to fear a separation even more. If they know that the other spouse will have an equal say in raising the kids, they may not want to go through that process because of the retaliation an abusive father may have on the children.
Fathers who deserve a place in their children’s lives should have equal access and control when compared to the mother. However, assuming either parent should maintain rights leaves a dangerous trail. The equal shared parenting bill may prove dangerous. Is it worth risking the lives and health of children?

A better solution needs to ensure fathers are getting a fair case in a separation, but granting them immediate shared custody may not be the way.

Kate Harveston is a freelance writer and blogger from the states. Her writing covers social justice issues and current events in the U.S., Canada, and all over the world. When she’s not writing, she can be found curled up with a book or exploring the city for new things to do. You can follow her writing by visiting her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

Designed by Rachel Gold.