A330 Would Help New York’s Children of Divorce

By Michael McCormick and Glenn Sacks

In the wake of the New York Matrimonial Commission’s recommendation that the state embrace no fault divorce, the Assembly’s Children & Families Committee will soon consider a family law bill which will help reduce post-divorce conflict and greatly improve the lives of New York’s children of divorce. Three dozen Assemblypersons have signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors of A330. The bill would protect the loving bonds children share with both parents by establishing joint custody as the preferred parenting arrangement after divorce.

While a growing consensus of mental health and family law professionals endorses joint custody, New York still opts for sole maternal custody in the overwhelming majority of cases. However, research establishes that joint custody is what’s best for kids.

According to a meta-analysis conducted by psychologist Robert Bauserman and? published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Family Psychology, children in joint custody settings had fewer behavior and emotional problems, higher self-esteem, better family relations, and better school performance than children in sole custody arrangements.

A Harvard University study of 517 families conducted across a four-and-a-half year period measured depression, deviance, school effort, and school grades in children ranging in age from 10 to 18. The researchers found that the children in joint custody settings fared better in these areas than those in sole custody.

A study by psychologist Joan Kelly published in the Family and Conciliation Courts Reviewfound that children of divorce "express higher levels of satisfaction with joint physical custody than with sole custody arrangements," and cite the "benefit of remaining close to both parents" as an important factor.

When Arizona State University psychology professor William Fabricius conducted a study of college students who had experienced their parents’ divorces while they were children, he found that over two-thirds believed that "living equal amounts of time with each parent is the best arrangement for children."

Research demonstrates that joint custody also leads to high rates of child support compliance. This is no surprise–parents who are permitted little role in their children’s lives have less motivation to make sacrifices for their children. Also, under the current system noncustodial parents are often forced to wage expensive court battles in order to protect their time and relationships with their children. These parents end up supporting lawyers instead of kids.

The New York Chapter of the National Organization for Women, the New York-based National Coalition for Family Justice, and other misguided women’s advocates oppose A330 in part because they believe that joint custody is unworkable when there has been conflict between divorcing parents. Research indicates that these fears are unwarranted.

According to a study in the Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, over time joint custody serves to help reduce conflict between divorced spouses. When Texas Woman’s University conducted a study of the effects of post-divorce discord on children aged 8 to 12, they found that joint custody does not expose children to greater parental conflict. Bauserman’s research found that divorced couples with joint custody report less conflict than those in sole-custody settings.

NY NOW and others are legitimately concerned about protecting divorcing women who have been victims of domestic violence. However, A330's presumption of joint custody only applies to fit parents–abused women would receive sole custody.

Opponents of A330 also claim that joint custody creates confusion and instability for children because it requires them to spend significant time in two houses. Research shows that children fare best in the stability of a married, two parent household. Once that family is ruptured, however, the best way to restore the children’s sense of permanence is to preserve and protect their critical bonds with the two people they love most in the world–their mother and their father.

Also, according to Kelly’s research, joint custody usually does not create confusion for children about their living arrangements.

A330 requires courts to award joint custody unless there are allegations that it would be detrimental to the child. Should these allegations be made, the parent requesting sole custody bears the burden of demonstrating detriment. And when judges decide against joint custody, they must state their reasons. A330 is a moderate, common sense way to reduce the harm and loss children experience from divorce.

This piece originally appeared as an op-ed debate between the National Organization for Women's Marcia Pappas and us in the Albany Times Union. The debate took place in the context of our battle with NOW over New York Shared Pareting Bill A330--to learn more, please visit our campaign page. Pappas' op-ed opposing us was Joint Custody Bill not in Child's Interest.