In my work writing about women, money and family in the United States, there are two prevailing issues:
- Dads who do not live with their kids are barely involved. (Just 22% of dads who live apart from their children see them more than once weekly, per Pew.)
- That pay gap will. not. close.
Here's the answer:
Start all custody negotiations at a default 50/50 parenting and custody, with no child support or alimony.
Joint custody child support
While there is a great movement towards equally shared visitation time in at least 30 states, the majority of family courts still default to some version of a model that has prevailed in separated families for decades:
- Dad pays mom child support, and maybe alimony.
- Mom is primary custodian and dad gets “Friday night special” — every-other-weekend, and Wednesday night dinners.
This antiquated arrangement only reinforces the sexist notions:
- Women are incapable of supporting themselves.
- Fathers are inferior parents.
Indeed, this outdated agreement holds women, men, families and the economy back.
I can tell you first-hand it is a heck of a lot harder to get ahead professionally and financially if you are the sole – or majority care provider for children.
If we unburdened the 10 million single mothers in this country from this responsibility (64 percent of millennial moms have had at least one baby outside of marriage, according to Johns Hopkins), and forced fathers to be true co-parents, gender economics in this country would look very, very different.
How does time sharing effect the pay gap?
When parenting time is shared equally, single moms would have so, so much more time to invest in their careers and businesses.
When parenting is equal, moms are are not the default caregiver when kids barf in the night and need to stay home from school.
Moms would not automatically be the parent that must leave work early for teacher meetings, or systematically forgo career-advancing work travel or evening networking events.
More shared parenting time affords moms much-needed time to rest, exercise and develop relationships and interests outside of their kids that make women happier mothers and more productive citizens.
When dads not only have equal parenting time, but also equal parenting responsibility, fathers are forced to make the hard work-life decisions that women have known for generations, leveling the workplace playing field.
Decisions like whether to take time off after having a child, or scale back a career to nurture young children — the very hard decisions that women have made for generations, and are at the root of the pay gap.
Finally, equally shared parenting equalizes parents not only in separated and divorced families, but all families. Equally shared parenting laws change family culture. If equal parenting were the norm, this would create a collective mind shift at home, work and in the bedroom.
Listen to my Like a Mother podcast episode on the topic:
Related: How to divorce like a feminist
Child support reform promotes father involvement
Fatherlessness is a public health crisis, that affects every facet of American life. Antiquated child support laws and collection enforcement are at the root of this issue.
A whole body of work studying father involvement finds that when a child is raised without active involvement of a father, they are likely to suffer:
- Diminished sense of physical and emotional security (children consistently report feeling abandoned when their fathers are not involved in their lives)
- Behavioral and social problems, including with friendships
- Poor academic performance. 71% of high school dropouts are fatherless
- High crime, as 85% of youth in prison have an absent father
- Fatherless children are more likely to have sex before age 16, not use contraception during first intercourse, and become teenage parents, and transmit STDs.
- More likely to use and abuse alcohol and other drugs.
- 90% of runaway kids have an absent father.
-life chances (as adults, fatherless children are more likely to experience unemployment, have low incomes, remain on social assistance, and experience homelessness)
-future relationships (father absent children tend to enter partnerships earlier, are more likely to divorce or dissolve their cohabiting unions, and are more likely to have children outside marriage or outside any partnership)
-mortality (fatherless children are more likely to die as children, and live an average of four years less over the life span)
50/50 parenting time sharing is better for all families, everywhere
If women know they can never rely on a man outside of marriage for income, we will make different, better decision about our careers, and money.
When divorce courts force both sexes to participate in the workforce and with children in equal measure, that message trickles into all families — including married and single-people homes.
When both sexes are forced by court or social pressure to parent equally, men and women on corporate boards, in Congress, in C-suites, and on down make different, better policies for workers and families.
Plus, this presumed, equal and fair arrangement relieves courts of the endless bickering and petitions that distract from extreme cases — like actual abuse and neglect — for which deviation from this rule would be appropriate.
Strong workforce participation by women is great for children, as studies have shown. Strong workforce participation by women is great for the economy, national security and societal stability.
I know the pushback:
I am the better parent. I am the mother! I don't want him to have more than 30% visitation. It's not good for the kids.
If he is safe to be with the kids 30% — or 10%, or 20% — he is safe to be with them 50%.
This is true even in cases where there is high conflict between the parents, or one is richer than the other.
Just because the child lived in your uterus does not mean you get more say in how they are raised.
Men will never step into their full father potential if we keep assuming they are the inferior parent.
We agreed I would give up my career to stay with the kids, and it is not fair that my standard of living is compromised because he wants to divorce!
You're not a child, and he is not your father. You entered into marriage knowing the risks.
You are an adult woman who as political and economic rights that you chose not to exercise.
That was not a good decision, and I am sorry you made them, but it is not another person's responsibility to pay for those decisions.
If you want a higher standard of living, you are free to pursue a career that will afford you that.
Now that he has the kids 50%, you have plenty of time to do that.
He is supposed to take the kids half the time but never shows up. I still shouldn't pursue child support?
That is a decision that you have to make.
Yes, if he doesn't care for the kids half the time, he should step up and care for them financially.
But keep in mind these things:
- He will always and forever resent giving you that money and it will be a wedge between you in any co-parenting.
- Psychologically, taking that money will likely hold you back. He is a man you are no longer tied to romantically, and from whom you are (or should be) striving to create a separate life. Money ties people together. You risk being dependent on him. Tread carefully.
My kids are so little! My baby is nursing! 50/50 doesn't make sense!
I agree. This is about being reasonable and what is good for the greater sum, without abandoning the individuals.
Nursing babies and their moms, temporarily, require certain circumstances.
So do disabled adults, and deployed military. move to default equal visitation and no support will not be painless.
But they are necessary steps in an evolution towards financial and parental equity.
Please listen to Terry Brennan, of Leading Women for Shared Parenting, explain why default every-other-weekend visitation leads to absentee fathers.
Note that in cases where ‘standard’ visitation is awarded — every-other-weekend — fathers become depressed and non-involved, and within 3 years, one study found, 40 percent of children in an unequal visitation arrangement had lost complete touch with their non-custodial parents, which are nearly always the father.
Have a listen:
Related documentary and books on shared parenting:
Recommended shared parenting documentary: Divorce Corp
Blend, The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family, By: Mashonda Tifrere
Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You, By: by Amy J. L. Baker, PhD and Paul R Fine, LCSW
Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing, By: Dr. Richard A. Warshak
Read More: A dad explains: “Why I don’t see my child.”
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.