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 equally shared parenting time and custody, with no child support or alimony.
What is joint custody?
Joint legal custody is the most common agreement, in which both parents have equal rights to have a say in major decisions affecting children, including medical, education, religion, and where the child lives.
Joint physical custody — also referred to as 50/50 time sharing, equally shared parenting, and equal care — means that the time the kids spend with both parents is approximately equal.
It is very common for parents to be awarded joint legal custody — presumably deeming both fit enough to make sound decisions for their children — but very unequal parenting time.
Neither joint legal nor joint physical custody automatically has any bearing on one another, nor any child support paid. In other words:
A father with 50/50 custody can pay child support — and even alimony.
Joint custody and child support
While there is a great movement towards 50/50 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 the 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.
- Women's job in society as unpaid caregiver, financially dependent on a man.
- Men's job in society is to be the breadwinner, reliant on a woman to care for his loved ones.
This outdated arrangement holds women, men, families and the economy back.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.
Listen to my Like a Mother podcast episode on the topic:
How does time-sharing affect 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 not the default caregiver when kids barf in the night and need to stay home from school.
50/50 custody means 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, joint physical custody 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.
After all, time and again when asked how we will ever close the pay gap, experts cite affordable child care. Having half of the time off from your kids, who are in the safe and loving care of the other parent, is as good as it it gets. No expensive state or federal budgets required! No politically charged policy to pass! JUST SPLIT TIME EQUALLY BETWEEN PARENTS!
Why is child support so unfair to fathers
While the world is changing for the better in many ways, the majority of child support payors are men. Here are all the reasons this is unfair to dads:
- Child support is built on the presumption that one parent (mothers) care for the children while another (father) pays for them. This shoehorns men and women into sexist roles, with men forced to be the breadwinner.
- Often, whether by law or practice, child support is tied to the amount of time a man is allowed to spend with their children — heightening an already adversarial family court system, and making men pay to see their children.
- Child support calculations rarely factor in a man's ability to afford payments, and in states where failure to pay leads to jail time, forces poor men trapped in a cycle of imprisonment, unemployment, and more imprisonment. Meanwhile, no money is paid in child support, and fatherlessness is perpetuated, as outlined in this New York Times article:
Though the threat of jail is considered an effective incentive for people who are able but unwilling to pay, many critics assert that punitive policies are trapping poor men in a cycle of debt, unemployment and imprisonment.
The problem begins with child support orders that, at the outset, can exceed parents’ ability to pay. When parents fall short, the authorities escalate collection efforts, withholding up to 65 percent of a paycheck, seizing bank deposits and tax refunds, suspending driver’s licenses and professional licenses, and then imposing jail time.
“Parents who are truly destitute go to jail over and over again for child support debt simply because they’re poor,” said Sarah Geraghty, a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights, which filed a class-action lawsuit in Georgia on behalf of parents incarcerated without legal representation for failure to pay. “We see many cases in which the person is released, they’re given three months to pay a large amount of money, and then if they can’t do that they’re tossed right back in the county jail.”Skip Child Support. Go to Jail. Lose Job. Repeat. — The New York Times
While many assume child support mandatory in divorce — it does not have to be. If you settle out of court through a low-cost online divorce service, you can negotiate joint, 50/50 custody, equal parenting time, no or lower child support, and any other arrangements that you and your child's other parent agree to.
If you go to family court, however, a judge will likely apply your state's child support calculator, with no flexibility.
How to get 50/50 custody
There is no single formula that guarantees joint physical custody. However, I have seen the following be helpful in establishing 50/50 equally shared parenting:
- Focus on a goal of a low-conflict, amicable, and equal process if at all possible. Even if your ex has taken winner-takes-all tactics, you are more likely to appeal to them if you seek cooperation, opposed to winning. Likewise, a judge is more likely to be sympathetic to a parent who has behaved in a spirit of low-conflict and fairness, while a combative spouse can be seen negatively by a court.
- If you are at the beginning of your divorce, separation or family court process, do not agree to anything less than 50/50 time sharing. Doing so establishes a precedent that is hard to change later.
- Hire the right attorney. Find a family law attorney with a track record of winning fair and equal divorce settlements. However, in extreme cases a skilled litigator may be called for.
- Do not try to negotiate lower child support in exchange for moer parenting time. While this may be a possibility later, you never want to appear to seek more custody time in exchange for lower payments.
- Take your parenting time seriously. Show up for all scheduled visits, school activities, parent conferences and medical appointments — on time.
- Never interfere with the other parent's time with the kids.
- Keep records of your visitation adherence — as well as that of your co-parent.
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.
- Mental health disorders (father absent children are consistently overrepresented on a wide range of mental health problems, particularly anxiety, depression and suicide)
- As adults, fatherless children are more likely to experience unemployment, have low incomes, remain on social assistance, and experience homelessness)
- Poor 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)
- Higher mortality rates (fatherless children are more likely to die as children, and live an average of four years less over the life span)
50/50 parenting and 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 decisions 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.
However, if you work on practicing equally shared co-parenting, you may find that both parents can grow in their parenting — and know that their children benefit from it. More tips on how to co-parent in this post.
Men will never step into their full father potential if we keep assuming they are the inferior parent. In fact, many men and women both attest to the fact that fathers really improved their parenting after divorce. These parents say that this happened because:
- They were forced to — the mom wasn't there all the time to swoop in when parenting was stressful. This is hardly surprising. Parenting is not rocket science, and men and women are born equipped for the job. Keep in mind that humanity has thrived based on the model of very young, uneducated people raising other to adulthood. Parenting is not a higher calling requiring of special skills or education.
- There was no mom nearby micromanaging his parenting. Now alone with the kids, the dad now had room to grow into the father he was meant to be.
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.
If today you commit to equally shared parenting starting at age 1 with increased time with the father now, that defuses conflict and builds trust that the spirit of your agreement is indeed fair.
A broader societal move to default, equal parenting and no child support will not be painless. But they are necessary steps in an evolution towards financial and parental equity.
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.
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
Terry Brennan, of Leading Women for Shared Parenting, discusses shared parenting:
Have a listen:
- There are 43 academics papers support shared parenting for children of divorced or separated parents.
- 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.
- Research finds that a minimum of 35 percent of kids' time with both parent is required to bond with a parent. Anything less robs children an opportunity to truly bond with the parent.
- Lack of shared parenting linked to every major social pathology in the United States.
- Extended families of both parents have the right to be part of children's lives.
- Of course abuse and neglect cases are the exception.
- The shared parenting movement has become mainstream, supported by as many women as men, with 20 shared parenting bills around the country, with passed laws in Utah, Missouri, South Dakota and Arizona.
- “Fathers who get involved from the get-go are far more involved, while those who are marginalized become distant parents and are marginalized further.”
- If courts stop asking parents to argue for their children, and start assuming that they are both competent people, parents form a more amicable and collaborative co-parenting relationship, which results in more involved fathers and happier children.
- In Australia, after the implementation of shared parenting laws nationally, 73 percent fewer parents went to lawyers to resolve co-parenting issues, and just as many parents sought out counseling to resolve issues.
Full transcript of Like A Mother episode featuring guest Terry Brennan
Emma Johnson: So if you follow this podcast or follow my blog wealthysinglemommy.com, you'll know that over the last couple years I've become increasingly passionate about the issue of absentee fathers. The numbers are simply personally alarming to me and highlighted by the fact that I realize I'm been living in a East Coast big city, progressive bubble where people here, you get divorced, people generally in my circle of friends and associates … you know, people more or less split up parenting. A lot of involved dads, a lot of pretty progressive families. And just doing my research, it's out there, there's lots and lots of information out there that shows that, that's not the story in this country.
Emma Johnson: Even amongst those East Coast liberal big city families, absenteeism among fathers who live separately from their kids is astonishing. So in doing this research, one of the big trends, one of the big areas of research that is going on out there is a real push for shared parenting in families that are divorced or separated maybe. Families where the parents live separately, what to do with the kids? So that's how I came to today's guest who is a Terry Brennan, and Terry is co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. Leading Women for Shared Parenting and their URL, I urge you to check it out, it's Lw4sp.org, and Terry, he's not gonna this because he's extremely modest, but he is single handedly doing a lot of the work that of this organization, which is working very grassroots, state by state, legislature by legislature, to push for a presumed shared parenting mandate.
Emma Johnson: So that means you go to family court and you're sorting out your custody agreement, the presumption is that both parents share custody, legal custody, right? That's the decision making about medical issues and education, healthcare. But also shared residential custody, a minimum of 40% each parent. So this is so important, and the reasons is Terry will very eloquently dig into in this interview. It's so vast and deep seeping into families, into feminism, what is good for kids, what is good for men. Keeping men involved. This is what happens when we presume that men are incompetent parents, when we presume that they are inferior fathers, when the courts, their exes, everybody at large is telling them that they stink. And if god forbid, they should push back, and fight for more time with their children and are shut down, time and time again, that's when guys check out. That's when guys check out and stop being involved parents.
Moms are not necessarily entitled to more time with their kids
Emma Johnson: So I really want you to pay attention to this episode. I will tell you that I've gone personally through a lot of different phases, a lot of different thinking about my own family. And it really … I really have to humble myself and share with you. When I first got divorced, there's a lot of going with my ex, between the two of us, there's some medical concerns, and I really fought for sole custody. I sat for 90% of the control of over what was going on with my kids. And as time goes on, I see that that was flawed, you know? There was some special circumstances where I feel justified, but just because the baby lived inside of me does not entitle to more say, more control, or more time with my kids.
Emma Johnson: And for the greater good of every in my tiny little family orbit, and then on the macro scale of things, I very, very, strongly urge, listener, whether you're a mother or a father, you know a mother or father going through these decisions, to really open your mind and consider the value of true shared parenting as we will hear from Terry Brennan, my guest today. He's the co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. Have a listen.
Terry Brennan of Leading Women for Shared Parenting
Emma Johnson: Terry, I'm so excited for our conversation today. Thank you for being here.
Terry Brennan: Oh, it's always a pleasure, Emma.
Emma Johnson: So why don't you just start of tell us a little bit about your organization leading women for shared parenting. Leading Women for Shared Parenting, what is your mission and what is your goal?
Terry Brennan: Sure. I'm happy to have the opportunity. So Leading Women for Shared Parenting is a sole cause organization, which promotes the use of shared parenting as the cornerstone of family law. We are a research based organization, so we know that there are 43 papers and growing, I might add, that support shared parenting as best for children of divorce or separation. And we wanna allow children to have the most resources that they can in their lives. Resources in every way imaginable. Certainly financial resources and things of that nature, but also the love and nurturing that are provided by both their mother and father. And both their extended families.
Terry Brennan: And we know that shared parenting … or excuse me, the lack of shared parenting, fatherlessness, is linked to every major social pathology in the United States. So we wanna see children grow up in a happy environment with a lot of people around them who love them. And we know from the science that's going on for decades now, that that's best accomplished through shared parenting.
Emma Johnson: And how are you defining shared parenting?
Terry Brennan: So that's interesting. It's on our website. And it's a great question that you ask, because that can have different definitions. But right up on our website, you'll see what our definition is. And it's based both upon the research that's been done on shared parenting, as well as the implementation of shared parenting. And we've learned as it's been implemented in some states.
What is shared parenting?
Terry Brennan: So how the research defined shared parenting is when a child has a minimum of 35% of their time with both their mother, and their father post separation or divorce. The child's remaining time, if he's got 35% with both parents, is then crafted to be what's in their best interest. And the reason, part of the reason why the research says that that's what shared parenting is defined as is they found that that is the actual amount of time that a child has to have with each of their parents just to have a chance to bond with their parent. So instances where courts have traditionally ordered what's called standard visitation, or every other weekend and a one dinner a week, what you're really doing when you award that type of visitation to a child is robbing them of a chance to actually bond with that parent.
Terry Brennan: So that's how the research defines shared parenting is am minimum of 35% to each parent. That being said, what we've found in states where it i has been been implemented, I'll use the state of Utah as an example. In 2014 Utah passed a law that upped the amount of time that they have with both parents to 40%. And the quote by an attorney who is involved in the passage of the law in the newspaper said, “Because we've defined a minimum, the minimum has became the maximum”. So what they've found was instead of just standard visitation being ordered all the time, that the minimum amount of time was being ordered all the time. And because they wanted the children to have a little bit more time with each of their parents, so they upped it up to 40%. And that's gone very well.
Terry Brennan: So how we've defined ours is that with the typical exceptions that quite frankly I've never seen not included in the shared parenting bill, things like abuse, neglect, abandonment and so on. In those circumstances, I don't think about wants to see a child put in a shared parenting situation. But in circumstances that don't have those kind of anomalies associated with them, that a judge can go to 40% without even having to write the reasons why.
Emma Johnson: Okay. And that's the difference, that's the news in this legislation which by the way, I know you personally as a co founder of this organization, are working state by state, by state across this country to implement this sort of legislation that … I think what we wanna do right now in this interview is understand the problem that you're solving, right? Because what is the big challenge or big problem that's happening and has happened for decades in this country that you're looking to remedy?
The problem with court-ordered standard visitation
Terry Brennan: Yeah, for decades what courts have ordered, it's called standard visitation for a reason. The have ordered a visitation of every other weekend, and one dinner a week. And that's really not giving children the chance to bond with each parent. And in fact what it does more often than not, is it … the fathers become depressed, they become removed from their children, and within three years, 40% of children who go through this type of a circumstance, have lost complete touch with one of their parents, the non-custodial parent, which is typically the father.
Terry Brennan: So we've created a fatherless generation of children and that is something that we're looking to get rid off. We're looking to increase fathers' participation in the lives of their children. And this is backed up by study after study. In Nebraska, they completed a 10 year study of how much time children were awarded with their non-custodial parent. And the 10 year study found that the average time a child got was five days a month. Now, it's hard to have a relationship with one of your parents when you're seeing your parent for five days a month.
Terry Brennan: We've seen similar studies repeated multiple times in fact, in Massachusetts and elsewhere. So that's what we're looking to address. We're looking to keep both parents involved in their children's life after separation and divorce.
Emma Johnson: Okay. And you guys have been very successful, I mean talk to me about what's going on nationwide. Where are we in this change that you're initiating?
Terry Brennan: This is a movement that's been going on for several decades now. And when it first started, like all social movements, it was seen as an extreme movement and not part of the mainstream and so on. And it's the people who are involved early on certainly plowed ground that people who are advocates or attorneys don't have to plow now. So very thankful for all their efforts, but it really has become a mainstream movement. And let me quantify that with a few numbers.
Terry Brennan: Two years ago the Wall Street Journal reported that there were 20 shared parenting bills in states around the country. So you've got 40% of the United States actually considering shared parenting bills. And these bills vary from state to state, as you would expect. But it's really becoming the norm, I think 2017 will actually be another year we're already seeing an awful lot of activity including some bills already being filed. I know we'll have a bill in Texas, I know we'll have a bill in Wisconsin, I know we'll have a bill in Alabama, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and so on. So you're already seeing a lot of activity.
Terry Brennan: And in addition to that, we're starting to see states flip over into shared parenting. And bills passing legislatures. So this past year Missouri passed a shared parenting bill. Previously, as I've mentioned it was Utah, but also South Dakota passed a shared parenting bill-
Which states have passed shared parenting bills?
Emma Johnson: So how many states currently have shared parenting that's enacted?
Terry Brennan: In addition to those states, the state of Arizona probably has the best parenting bill in the country. Which is actually it's kind of an interesting and different approach, it doesn't mandate a minimum time with each parent, but what it instructs the courts to do is maximize the time with both parents. And that we recently had an article in Newsweek magazine which included the interview of a sitting judge in Arizona. And everybody agrees that law is working very well, and it's been in place since 2012. So certainly enough time to see the impact of that legislation.
Terry Brennan: So there are now, I think it's five states who have moved to a full shared parenting arrangement, and we're expecting a significant amount of legislation in 2017.
Emma Johnson: Let's dig a little bit more into the problem though. Let's talk about that for a second. Because my audience and my blogging is largely women. It is the moms in this equation. And their argument or what their reaction is often in these conversations is, “Well, he just doesn't show up. I tried to facilitate it, he doesn't show up”. Or, “He doesn't want to be an equal parent, he doesn't even wanna do 5% much less 40%”. Or, “He's abusive”. Or, “He's narcissistic”. Or, “I'm the better parent. They simply should be with me because I do X, Y, and Z, and I'm the better parent”.
Emma Johnson: They recognize that this absentee father is an issue, but they also believe in all those things that I just said, so I imagine you hear those comments and more. What's your reaction? What's the answer?
Terry Brennan: Sure, yeah. And I don't think anything you've said in that statement is new to me. And I don't think about involved with Leading Women for Shared Parenting or any group that are involved with would say that there is no such as a father who didn't wanna be involved with their child. There certainly are. Just like there are mothers who, you know, aren't good moms. There are dads who don't wanna be involved with their children. And again, in those types of circumstances, I don't know of about who's looking for the best that we can have for society that is pushing those type of circumstances should have shared parenting.
Fathers who are active in their kids’ lives from the beginning tend to stay involved
Terry Brennan: But what we find is that fathers who get involved really from the get go tend to stay much more involved and those fathers who are marginalized, again, from the get go tend to become not only distant parents but get marginalized even further.
Terry Brennan: There's research to show that 40% of the kids who go through separation or divorce lose contact with one parent within three years, and this doesn't happen over night, it happens over time. Where, you know, a dad is supposed to have the kids on the weekend but for example, he gets the flu. And now he's put in a position where he can't have the kids and expose them to the flu or skip time with the children and basically not see them for any length of time other than a dinner or a month at a time. And then he feels distant, the relationship feels awkward, maybe he has to travel for work.
Terry Brennan: And instead of the parents working something out where the kids still get the amount of time that they have been ordered with their father, things just drift apart. And that's certainly not good for the dad, but it's also much more importantly not good for the children. And so what we find is if you take the argument where what courts are frequently doing is putting the children in between the two parents and asking them to argue for their children. If you take out of the argument, if you give each parent a minimum of 35% time with their children, the argument lessens, the parents can get along better, and they actually can craft a parenting plan that is better for both themselves and for the children. So, you know, that's part of how I'd answer your question.
Emma Johnson: Right. Because I think that like often as a mom, and look, I have not had the easiest relationship with my ex-husband, my kid's dad, and I think I cycled through all kinds of relationships with him. Very contentious, very amicable, and I know, it resonates with me when these moms say, “Well, he should just show the F up. It doesn't matter if I'm a bitch, it doesn't matter if he owes child support, it doesn't matter if we're it through the court. He's the dad, he has a moral obligation, and he should just show up”. And I've said those things myself.
Emma Johnson: But what I'm hearing you say is that it really doesn't matter what you think, and that might be right, but sometimes you could be so right, you're wrong. And he's just not gonna show up if it's a contentious situation. It's just not working. The current … that moralizing is simply not work and we need a new system.
When the parenting responsibility falls to the “better parent”
Terry Brennan: Well, I think it comes back to what you were saying before, I mean another one of your questions was, and I'll paraphrase it, I'm the better parent so the children should be with me. This is a circumstance that really we already know isn't good for the children. As long as you're dealing with an engaged and capable parent, and it's not, it shouldn't be a competition between mom and dad for who's the better parent. It should be a situation where are both of you parents who are ready, willing, and able to contribute to the social and emotional, and learning development of your children, and if so, then you should both have a significant amount of time with them.
Terry Brennan: And if you say that it doesn't matter how I'm treating the other parent or things of that nature, that parent should show up, the other side of that argument is well then they should have an equal amount of time with the children. Or more time with the children. If you want them to show up, it should be showing up every other weekend, or 35%, 45%, 50% of the time. Because believe it or not, Emma, I've had a multitude of conversations with parents who were divorced, and this is really interesting subject. Where they were divorced and initially they got a standard visitation of every other weekend and one dinner a week. And over time, through the court system, they were able to move that into a shared parenting situation.
Terry Brennan: And to a person, what I've been told is that the relationship with their former spouse got better in a shared parenting situation than it was in an every other weekend situation.
Emma Johnson: Oh, I totally believe that.
Terry Brennan: Because they now looked at the children and the responsibilities of the children as a partnership and they worked things out.
Emma Johnson: That's right. You know what and the other thing I always tell people, especially if you're new to this whole separated family situation, it's very hard to see the long picture, the long story, and you're gonna feel different, you're gonna calm down, you may learn to trust the other person again, maybe you don't initially for a whole bunch of reasons. Set your anger aside, and you might be begging that parent to take the kids more. Because your life goes on, you understand that you're not gonna die if you're not with them seven days a week. You might wanna work more. You might have a romantic relationship. Any number of things, and you just want somebody to be there to pick the kids up after school when you have to work late.
Terry Brennan: Look, you as a single mom and your audience as single moms know that being a single parent can be exhausting. Especially when you're trying to also hold down a job, have a social life, have a romantic life, excreta excreta. So giving a simple parent some more time off, having the other parent take some with the children, actually leads to a more robust life and lifestyle for everyone involved.
Emma Johnson: Oh, yeah. Right.
Shared parenting when the parents are angry with each other
Terry Brennan: But you mentioned something else which was really interesting and that is around the anger. One of the very interesting things, findings of Dr. Edward Crook who is a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia, he studied the implantation of shared parenting when it was put in place in Australia. And one of the things that he found is something that I think is a flaw in our current system. People generally speaking who are separating or going through divorce, in part because it isn't working and in part because they are angry with their partner.
Terry Brennan: And you take people, if you think about this from a societal wellbeing perspective, you take people who are upset with each other, and you put them in so contentious environment designed to fight with each other over money, or their children, or their belongings, or whatever. Of course the anger is not only going to stick around, but it's probably going to get worse. What Dr. Crook found in the implantation of shared parenting Australia, was that people really didn't go to the legal community nearly as much. In fact there was a drop of 73%. People stopped going to lawyers and they started going to community health centers, mental health professionals, licensed therapists, and so on in order to work through those emotions.
Terry Brennan: So instead of battling out in the court system, they work through the emotions, they figured out what their triggers were with the help of mental health counselors, and then they were able to work out parenting plans that work better for everyone involved, and you're seeing-
Divorce lawyers have a vested interest in your dysfunctional custody dispute
Emma Johnson: Yeah, but it's like lemme just drive home the point I believe you're trying to make which is that, I mean not to vilify lawyers, there's lots of good lawyers out there, but the lawyers have a vested interest in your life being high conflict. And they are getting you at the worst time of your life going through a divorce or a custody dispute is the lowest point of your life. And they step in and charge you 300 dollars an hour to ramp up that conflict. So what I'm hearing you say is when the government and Australia's case, the federal, national government steps in and says, “Okay we're gonna take a lot of that conflict right out of the equation”, what did you say? 73% of the cases didn't even make it to court anymore?
Terry Brennan: That's correct. That's correct and for the drop in use of lawyers, there was a corresponding increase in the use of mental health centers. So what the society did was it took it out of the contentious aspect of the court system and put it into the therapeutic aspect of the mental health system to help people work through those emotions. So you're exactly right, I mean when you think about attorneys and I'll say-
Terry Brennan: So you're exactly right. When you think about attorneys, and I'll say right up front, there are plenty of good attorneys out there. In fact, there's a number of them that have joined Leading Women for Shared Parenting. And even in instances where you have shared parenting, there still is a need for attorneys. You have plenty of other issues to work through, as far as finances and property and things of that nature.
Terry Brennan: But to work jointly with the mental health community in order to work through those issues, and to take the children … That's the main thing that we like to do. Take the children out of the issue, or out of the realm of things to be argued about. When it comes to attorneys, attorneys really only make money in two ways. They make money to draft documents, and they make money to argue. And so they do have a financial incentive to continue the case on and to continue and heighten the argument.
Terry Brennan: That's not good for families or society, or certainly for children.
Taking the conflict out of custody and shared parenting
Emma Johnson: No. I was just reading about another less formal study, but it was a family therapist who just, for a while, did his own study. And it was a flip of a coin whether … These couples would come to him and they were ending their marriages, families with kids. And they said, “Flip of a coin,” and half of them went to lawyers and half of them went to mediation, which is, for those that don't know, low conflict.
Emma Johnson: Often, they're lawyers, but it's low conflict. There's one. It's just, the goal is for everybody to keep legal fees and conflict to a minimum. Anyways, and what's the results? You're familiar with this, right? And it was something like long-term, the fathers were involved four or five times more for the families that went to mediation.
Terry Brennan: Right. It's non-contentious, the fathers aren't sidelined, that doesn't create further acrimony between the parents. Which, of course, bleeds over into the life once the case is settled. And it just leads to a certainly healthier, but I think more importantly, much happier relationship for everyone going forward.
Emma Johnson: Right. So it's really rethinking. I mean, I've been writing a lot about shared parenting and equal custody. And it melts people's minds. If they haven't gone through it and challenged the status quo themselves, their brains melt. Because it is so ingrained in us. Women and men that a marriage ends, the kids go with the mom, and it's like you described. That Friday night … That's what we call it in New York: the Friday night special, which is the every other weekend deal.
Emma Johnson: And the notion that dads are just as equal as moms, just as important, is a new and wondrous thing for most people. And I think it's extremely upsetting to many women, when they realize that that is not going to be their story.
Terry Brennan: Well, again, I like to keep the focus on the child. So when parents look at what “they” are getting out of a situation where they go through a separation or divorce, that's the wrong mentality. And what we really need to focus on as a society is, what are the kids getting? And it's difficult to argue that when the kids can have a meaningful relationship with both their parents, that they don't have a fuller life with more resources.
Shared parenting and extended families
Terry Brennan: And let's not forget, we're really talking not just about mom and dad splitting up; we're talking about extended families. We've all heard the situation that when you get married, you married into the family as well. Well, that's the case for these children. So when we set up a Friday night special, as you call it, or a standard visitation every other weekend, what we're really doing is not only creating an every-other-weekend dad, but also an every-other-weekend paternal grandma, paternal grandpa, paternal cousins, aunts, uncles, and so on.
Terry Brennan: We're removing half of the child's family from their life. It's just difficult to argue that that's the best that we can do for both our children and our society. So we're looking to change all that, and I think we're having some great success.
Emma Johnson: I know you are. And this is how all social change happens. First, you need the policy, and then it has to be implemented, and then culture changes. And what you're doing is so important, because I could, over here on my blog, can lecture people all day long to change their attitudes. But when it's coming a judge that is deciding what your family's gonna look like, that trickles down. It trickles down to families that haven't even thought about divorce. And it infiltrates their thinking about how they're gonna manage their families and their marriages and their parenting.
Emma Johnson: And it's such a huge movement that you're part of. So I'm grateful. Thank you.
Terry Brennan: Well, it's interesting that you mention cultural change, Emma, because that's an important part as well. And we have seen … We can all go back to the days of when fathers were considered, “I go to work and I come home and I sit and read the paper while mom and the kids run about at my feet, and that's the extent of my involvement.” And that certainly isn't the case anymore. There have been studies: I'm thinking of one done by a marketing firm in the U.K. which asked mothers. And 60% of mothers said that the fathers were co-parents, just as involved in the raising of their children as much as they were.
Terry Brennan: And it's interesting. The reason I bring this was up done by a marketing firm, is because you're starting to see that also in our advertising. Two years ago, we had the Super Bowl, which was known as the Super Bowl for “dadvertising,” where fathers were portrayed much more accurately, rather than the Homer Simpson-esque fathers that we've all come so used to, where mom is the super-parent and dad is the dolt and uses the staple gun to put a diaper on.
Terry Brennan: Not only is that not an accurate reflection of the fathers that you see as you look down your street, your block, your apartment building and so on, but it's not an accurate reflection of dads in America. And the millennial generation has certainly come along, and those fathers are very interested in shared parenting. And so all of our culture is changing about the time when we're realizing from the decades of studies that kids do best when they've got mom and dad equally involved.
Terry Brennan: And that's because mom and dad bring different and equal skills to the table for child development. Again, we've gotta see that reflected in our courts, when separation does happen. But it's gonna lead to a much healthier society.
Emma Johnson: You and I talked before, and there's this presumption that the dad is the inferior parent. And that is really the nucleus of the change that we're trying to see. I know, I just remember this time earlier this year. And my kids are not with their dad half the time. They see him a couple times a week, but it's the majority of the time with me. And it was during the middle of the week, and I had a big work event. And they were gonna spend the night with their dad in the middle of the school week.
Emma Johnson: And I was telling them the plan, and my son, who was five or six at the time, he's like, “Well, why are we spending the night at daddy's on a Tuesday, and why is the babysitter not coming over?” And without even thinking about it, I said, “Because daddies are as important as mommies.” He hadn't gotten that message yet. He was like, “Oh,” like that was news to him. And I was like, “Okay, maybe he's not gonna see that reflected in the time he spends with his parents, but I have to drill that into him and his sister somehow.”
Emma Johnson: And I'm still working that out. Maybe you can give me some advice. But it's not just about even our kids today; it's about gender equality. It's about raising our children and our daughters to expect different things from their partners and from the world moving forward.
Shared parenting and gender equality
Terry Brennan: Absolutely. And that will play into not only their beliefs about the world, but their own relationships as they mature and become adults themselves. If what we're teaching children is that dads don't matter, then any mother who has a son can relate that they know what their son is gonna grow up to believe when he enters his own adult relationships and has children of his own.
Terry Brennan: So dads do matter. We know that. It's proven again and again in the research. And they matter to sons and daughters alike. So you're exactly right, and good for you, Emma, for establishing that kind of a foundation with your own children, where dads matter just as much as moms. You're absolutely correct.
Terry Brennan: You know, it's interesting, though, because it is, I think, a generational thing. I remember last year when we were pushing a shared parenting bill in Florida. And when I was talking with attorneys there, what they would tell me is, “In part, it depends upon the age of the judge that you see.” Some of the older judges who were brought up in the environment of the “Leave it to Beaver” kind of a family, where dad wasn't as involved with the children, were often warding a every-other-weekend kind of visitation schedule.
Terry Brennan: But some of the younger judges, who were more involved and saw what was going on in society, were more apt to order a shared parenting type of arrangement. So it's something that is becoming outdated, certainly, and it's something that … The every-other-weekend schedule is certainly not backed up by the research, as to what's best for kids.
Emma Johnson: Right. Yeah, I mean you're really just torpedoing generations of ideas about family and gender and sexuality. And it's big. It runs very, very deep.
Terry Brennan: It does run deep. You're exactly right. And it's more than just for the mental health of the children; it is about gender equality. And it is about their expectations of what their relationships are gonna be like as adults.
Emma Johnson: Right. I always come at things from money. I think it's just another lens with which to examine things. And I'm always talking about ladies. Give up some of the time, because then you can earn. You're not spending on child care, you're not … The days that my kids go with their dad after school are long, wonderful days. I get so much done. And why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't I have equal opportunity to earn, advance my career, and close the pay gap for women everywhere in the world?
Emma Johnson: Feminists have been saying this for generations: if we want equality at work, in the public sector, then we have to have equality at home. And in a separated family, that just means the equality between two homes, right? Two households.
If women want equality at work, we need equality at home through shared parenting
Terry Brennan: So it's interesting. You see that certainly in some places. One very interesting story about Leading Women for Shared Parenting was that until her passing, Karen DeCrow was a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. And Karen was the former president of the National Organization for Women. And we have a video on our website saying exactly what you just said. That we aren't going to achieve for women equality in the workplace until we achieve equality for fathers in the home.
Terry Brennan: And it's something that you're seeing from time to time within feminist groups. In fact, the Women's Equality Party in the U.K. has, as a part of their platform, making sure that children have an active involvement with both their parents post-separation or divorce. So it's something that you're starting to see some of the purely women's groups focus on.
Emma Johnson: Right. Well, initially your movement … I think you still get a lot of pushback. I mean, it was National Organization of Women that sat down with some of the leading early voices of the shared parenting movement. And their official stance was against shared parenting. Am I right?
Terry Brennan: Well, initially, actually, they started out in favor of shared parenting, though again, this was back in the 60s. And that's in part, when Karen DeCrow left the National Organization for Women. Warren Farrell was also involved in that movement at that time, and he was on the board of National Organization for Women in New York City. And they went through a decision point where they had to be involved with getting shared parenting for children and families post-divorce or not.
Terry Brennan: And the decision was made at that point in time to not advocate for shared parenting from the National Organization for Women. So we actually run into them from time to time as we're advocating for bills in different states. We did run into them; they opposed us in Florida last year. But there's plenty of reasons and plenty of research to support shared parenting. And actually, the National Organization for Women and women's groups, we don't find to be our primary opposition.
Terry Brennan: The primary opposition actually comes from the groups who are currently profiting from the existing system. And on top of that list, I would put the state bar associations.
Emma Johnson: Oh, interesting. What's their position? What's their argument?
Terry Brennan: They're against shared parenting. Of course, they don't come out and say, “We're against shared parenting because our profits depend upon conflict.”
Emma Johnson: Yeah, but what is the argument that they make?
Terry Brennan: Well, the arguments that they make are, “It depends on a case-by-case basis. Every case is different.” Any time I hear a negative name involved, I certainly become suspicious, because that's certainly one way to get people to feel poorly about a situation. But they call them “ping pong kids,” bouncing back and forth between two homes and things of that nature. And they say that they're currently ordering shared parenting when it's appropriate.
Terry Brennan: But again, the research shows that in some states, that certainly, shared parenting is growing. But in other states, as I mentioned before, in Nebraska and Massachusetts and elsewhere, credible studies have shown that it's anything but.
Emma Johnson: Okay. Let's go through the arguments again, Sid, because the state bar might say it, but now saying it too, the “ping pong.” Let's talk about that. Debunk why that's not a viable argument against shared parenting.
Arguments against shared parenting
Terry Brennan: Yeah, so one of our Canadian members, Chris Titus, actually has a wonderful article in the Toronto newspaper that talks about her situation. In fact, it actually talks about her children and interviews her children. And her children couldn't more plainly state that it's really not a big deal for them. They live with their mom in the city at some points in time, and they have XBox and this and that and the other, and then the other part of the time, they live with their father out in a more rural community, and they play outside and so on.
Terry Brennan: And they have friends in both places. Again, we're talking about expanding the resources available to children. And in the unusual circumstance where, for example, they forget a book or a musical instrument at mom's house and they're supposed to be at dad's house, then the parents just work it out. They find a way to deliver the book or the musical instrument to the child. And the research actually shows that kids who are in shared parenting do better than in a primary home type situation.
Terry Brennan: So the situation, the argument is always made that, well, kids need stability. And what it comes down to, Emma, is how do you define stability? Those who oppose shared parenting think that stability is defined by living in a single home. Other people, if you define stability as maintaining a relationship with both your parents, would define stability that way. But what we're finding, and what decades of research has found, is that keeping the stability of both your parents involved in your life, far outweighs the benefits of keeping a stability of a room in one home.
Emma Johnson: Right. Yes. Very well said.
Terry Brennan: Now that being said, that being said, there is some advice, and I remember you when I talked about this the last time, that I would give to fathers, having spoken with children whose parents got divorced and they're now adults. And when you speak with kids like that, you find certain themes, one of which is, every noncustodial parent should always have a room, a separate bedroom for their children in their house, really no matter their financial circumstances.
Terry Brennan: Because what adult children of divorce will tell you, is the fact that I always had a room at dad's house made me feel like I belonged there.
Emma Johnson: Right. Because it was symbolic of the space that he kept in his life for the child.
Terry Brennan: Absolutely accurate. Absolutely accurate.
The importance dads making room in their lives for your kids
Emma Johnson: Yeah. And I'll repeat the story that I told earlier this year. I dated for a few months, a guy, a total New York City guy who took me to all these super fancy places and was always talking about how successful he was, and he spent gobs of money on clothes and dinners. And he's this fancy guy. And he was divorced, and he seemed like he really had a lovely relationship with his teenage daughter. And he talked about her a lot, and it did seem like a very sweet relationship, genuinely.
Emma Johnson: But despite all his bragging about his success and the fact he lived in a very, very fancy high-rise, new construction Manhattan building, that apartment had one bedroom in it. He didn't have a second bedroom for his daughter. And that bugged the heck out of me, and that was one of the major reasons I couldn't date him. And it was not just … It was that part of the fact that he fought bitterly with his ex over money, but not for shared parenting. He was happy to have the every-other-weekend special, et cetera.
Emma Johnson: But it was that bedroom. So dudes listening, it matters to your kids, but it also matters to women that you're trying to get into bed. So that's my two cents on that.
Terry Brennan: You know though, Emma, one of those thing … Because you mentioned what are the arguments against shared parenting? And one of the things that I said is that the attorneys will say, “Well every case is different.” And when you work with people who are really advocating and pushing to try and get more time with their children because they've been minimized … Frankly, in many cases, because of their gender, what you'll hear is, “Every case is different, in many instances, in a very negative way.”
The discrepancy between what we tell men about competency as parents and what our actions say
Terry Brennan: I'll tell a quick story. Molly Olson, who's actually the President of Leading Women for Shared Parenting … I was talking with her not long ago. And she said that she went through a case where the guardian who was involved, decided that the father should be minimized in the life of his children because he didn't get the children a cat. And the children wanted a cat, and he didn't get it for them, and that was selfish of him and so on and so forth.
Terry Brennan: And so he was minimized. And Molly said, “I knew it was gonna happen, I knew it was gonna happen.” And sure enough, two weeks later, she had another case where the father was minimized because he got the children a cat. And they thought that was, he was trying to bribe the children to get them to wanna spend more time with him. And that's why he got the cat, so he ought to be minimized.
Emma Johnson: But here's the thing. I don't wanna have these conversations about cats. I don't want my tax dollars to be spent arguing about the cat or the no cat. I want to be able to say, “You know what?” This is the thing where I think that moms … because okay. On one hand, we're telling men and boys in this country that they're incompetent parents, which is really saying they're incompetent men and incompetent people. They're the Homer Simpsons.
Emma Johnson: But we're also putting … The flip side is that we disproportionately put pressure on women to be the perfect omnipotent mother.
Terry Brennan: Absolutely.
Emma Johnson: So there's two sides to that, which are equally toxic. Okay, so the family split. An otherwise reasonable, loving woman has a lot of guilt that she is not now the primary parent. And I will be very honest. I totally felt that my kids were basically being born when I was going through my divorce. And I was nursing them, and I just felt this … I was a new mother feeling this huge connection with my children. My mind was being blown by this new motherhood in a really wonderful way.
Emma Johnson: And the thought that I would somehow be diminished in their lives and therefore in the eyes of society, was a very, very real pressure.
Terry Brennan: Yes. Yeah, no, I understand that completely. But part of … Again, you gotta keep the focus on the children in my eyes, Emma. One of the things that was really interesting for us when we formed Leading Women for Shared Parenting, was to understand the amount of support that it had from the public. And we got involved with some early research done by Dr. William Fabricius, who studied exactly that. And he did it by tapping into the jury pool in the state of Arizona.
Terry Brennan: So he got a random selection of people from the jury pool, and was able to ask them about their feelings for shared parenting and so on. And since we got involved with that research, our interest grew in that. We then consolidated every single poll that was out there that was reliable. And when I say “reliable,” I'm not talking about something that was put in the newspaper or where you can go online and click a box and one advocacy group can skew the results.
Terry Brennan: I'm talking about something that was done by a professional polling firm with a professional methodology and so on. And what you'll find is two things that may be surprising to a lot of people. One is that shared parenting is consistently gotten very strong support with the public, to the tune of 70% or higher. The highest that we saw was in Massachusetts, where they actually had a nonbinding ballot initiative. Over 600,000 people voted. And it received 86% favorability.
Terry Brennan: So an interesting thing in a state where the research shows that fathers are consistently given a minimum amount of time with their children, and 86% of the population endorses shared parenting. That tells you what kind of a stranglehold the various bar associations have over the judiciary committees in Massachusetts.
Fighting against the trend of shared parenting in the courts is an uphill battle
Emma Johnson: So what I'm hearing you say is that … People listening, it doesn't really matter what your opinion is. This is just a trend. This is like where it is a snowballing, positive trend. You and I, Terry, agree, it's a positive trend in the courts. And so you're facing an increasingly uphill battle if you want to fight against it.
Terry Brennan: Well, the point of the studies and so on, is that obviously when you have 70-plus-percent of the population support it, you not only have … Even if every man on the face of the earth supported it, which we know isn't the case, you've also got a majority of women who support it. So when we dug deeper into the numbers, what we actually found, and this is backed up in poll after poll, is that men and women support shared parenting in equal numbers.
Emma Johnson: That's beautiful. That makes me so happy.
Terry Brennan: It is. I mean, everybody says, “You know what? We've got a situation where a child is a child of two parents. And as long as they're engaged and capable parents, then they oughta be able to spend time with them.” Because people do appreciate the value that fatherhood brings. So it is something that is an extremely important point. And another point that we find that unfortunately draws contention is, you brought up before, to look at it through the lens of money. But you brought it up as a way of building your own business, building your own career, et cetera, et cetera.
Terry Brennan: And that's fine. Women should be looking to do that, certainly. But the way that the court looks at money is a little bit different. And of course, it's set up to create contention between the parents. In many states, what you have is a situation where the amount of child support that is ordered is ordered based upon the amount of time that you spend with the child.
Emma Johnson: Right. Let's talk about that, because I know New Jersey, which is close to me … and the number of states.
Terry Brennan: Absolutely. And what you see … In fact, I would dare say it's in a majority of the states. And what you see is that actually creates negative incentives, quite frankly, for both parents, okay?
Financial incentives for shared parenting: good or bad?
Terry Brennan: It creates negative incentives, quite frankly for both parents. It creates a negative incentive for mom because she wants to then maximize the amount of time that she has with the child, in other words minimize the child's father, because she has a financial incentive to do so. She gets paid more to minimize dad, okay? And it creates a negative incentive for dads, dads that don't want to be involved with their child's life, to actually argue for more time with their child because it lowers their child support payments.
Emma Johnson: Right. And then everybody's in court right, because he argues for more time but then doesn't show up then they're back in court or just everybody just split up. Go earn your own money, you've got plenty of time now ladies, go earn. Be responsible for your own lifestyle. Everybody has to have the same real estate, everybody needs approximately the same number of bedrooms in the house, the same amount of whatever bikes the kids are going to ride, or clothes they're going to wear at your house. There's not an unequal financial situation.
Terry Brennan: Yeah, Leading Women for Shared Parenting doesn't take an official position on child support, but we are not fans of the times when these states actually set up something to provide a financial incentive to parents to minimize the life of the other parent and their child. We know that's not good for children.
Emma Johnson: And what about situations where the dad or one parent owes the other parent a ton of child support, is there ever a reason to tie visitation to money?
Terry Brennan: No, again if you're looking at what's best for the child, then time with each parent is what's best for the child, not to say that people shouldn't pay their child support, they certainly should. And in fact what you'll find, and again this is backed up in paper, after paper after paper. Parents who have more time with their children actually pay more of their child support, so it's actually better. Again, this is all about, it depends upon what you're interested in, if you're interested in the legal system and generating as much money as you can for the legal system, then you set up policies to generate the most conflict. If you're interested in what's best for society then you look at the research and so on, and you set up policies based upon what's best for society. And shared parenting, as we've shown is not only best for children but it actually results in paying more child support. It's something that we know is coming, we can see the momentum building for it and we're really looking forward to 2017.
Why the National Organization of Women does not support shared parenting legislation
Emma Johnson: Yeah, that's awesome. Well I want to bring up one more thing and I can tell you're avoiding it but it's part of the equation, and it is the push back which I think, correct me if I'm wrong, is the official position of the National Organization of Women, which is they don't support shared parenting legislation because they say that it facilitates domestic violence.
Terry Brennan: Yeah, and I actually, I'm not avoiding that in fact I always look forward to that question.
Emma Johnson: Oh good. You're welcome.
Terry Brennan: And the reason I do, is because of the membership of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. So one of the things that people will notice when they take a look at the membership of Leading Women for Shared Parenting, we got thousands of members, we're in all 50 states, we're in something like 50 countries across the globe, when I say that I mean our members are from, but we've got some women who are prominent and who are the leaders of our organization, and they include a number of elected officials, both senators and representatives, they include journalists, researchers, lawyers, but we have a team of domestic violence practitioners that is literally world class. These are women who have made it their profession to study and interface with domestic violence cases, victims, perpetrators and so on.
Terry Brennan: When it comes to me, Emma. I'll talk about things that I know quite a bit about that I want to share with my voice of what I've learned with the community, and shared parenting is certainly one of those things. When it comes to domestic violence, I have a cursory knowledge of it but I always tend to turn around and say, why should you talk with me when you could be talking with some of the leading experts in the world on it, and oh by the way, they're members of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.
Emma Johnson: Yeah.
Terry Brennan: Just by the fact that we've got a number and it's probably five or so, of the women who have worked on the largest domestic violence study ever conducted is a real statement that they think that we can have shared parenting in our society, and that we can find the cases when there's domestic violence involved.
Does default shared parenting increase the risk of domestic violence?
Emma Johnson: Okay, just give me like a 20-second argument against it, against that argument, that we should not have a default shared parenting because it increases the risk of domestic violence because, why is that wrong?
Terry Brennan: Well, some people would say that we can't spot domestic violence, some people would say that domestic violence, and I agree with this by the way, isn't always a matter of physical violence, that there can be control issues, mental or emotional abuse, things of that nature as well. But again, I point to the states where we already have shared parenting, and you don't see a big spike in domestic violence happening in those circumstances. The judges, the court conciliatory people, the attorneys, mental health practitioners, everybody who's involved with it seems to feel as though the new laws are working well.
Emma Johnson: Well I would think a constitutional expert would find some way to show that that is, it's presuming that every father is an abuser, I mean that's the presumption, which is, I'm going to say it, that's fucked up.
Terry Brennan: Well it's funny because actually, again the presumption that we have from the media, which has a very powerful impact on all of our lives, is that domestic violence, what that really is, is men abusing women. And if you read that research, that isn't so. Again, I point people to the PASK study P-A-S-K, which is the largest study of domestic violence that's ever been conducted, and what they will tell you is, that by and large men and women perpetrate domestic violence in equal numbers.
Emma Johnson: Oh that's interesting, that is very under reported.
Terry Brennan: It is, now what they will also tell you, and I'm just repeating what I've heard from people who I do consider experts on the subject, is that we need to also state when we state that, that women are more prone to be injured or killed in domestic violence circumstances than men are, but that the perpetration of domestic violence is not a gendered issue.
Emma Johnson: Interesting, that's so interesting, so many issues. Yeah you know, one thing that you had told me in the past, because I said this whole issue of fatherlessness I feel like it's a very under reported media, very under reported in the media but you track this very closely of course, what did you say in smaller publications from smaller communities across the country, that's not necessarily the case?
Fatherlessness as the number one social problem in the U.S.
Terry Brennan: Yeah, it's interesting because there are many people out there who believe that fatherlessness is the number one social problem in the United States today. And that is back up by the research, we have about 40% of our children now who grow up in a fatherless home. It is tied to every single social pathology that is major in our country, whether it would be drug use, cigarette use, alcohol use, teen pregnancy, runaway. They have a higher percentage of dropping out of school, growing up to be future criminals et cetera, et cetera, every major pathology is linked to fatherlessness. And we do, on our web page we actually have a tracking mechanism called ‘Fatherlessness in the News', and there's a couple of things that we found very interesting about that.
Terry Brennan: First of all, it is the local or regional papers who seem to be writing about this, not the national media. And the thing that I found interesting about that is, if you think about the local papers these are the editors who are living in their communities, they are in the trenches so to speak, of America. They're not in an ivory tower, journalistic tower removed from the everyday living and dying of Americans. And they actually write about fatherlessness quite often and all of the things that I brought up, so you'll see that.
Terry Brennan: The other surprising thing that we found when we went through this is, it would be one thing if I said to the average American, are you surprised that we've got a fatherlessness problem in inner-city Detroit for example? And the answer that I would get back would be, no I'm not surprised at that at all. But you'll see papers in there, in Connecticut, in Florida, basically all over the country talking about fatherlessness, encouraging elected officials to get involved on a much more significant level and address the issue of fatherlessness, because they know it's really hurting our society. So those were the two major findings that we had in putting that together.
Emma Johnson: So it is not a poor brown person's problem, that's the presumption. It's the presumption that it's a poor brown person problem. Because it's the same dynamic, right if you tell somebody that you are an incompetent parent, that the person you love the most, that you cannot serve them, and that really the best way you can serve them is by giving them money and seeing them occasionally, and to change that you have to go through this incredibly painful expensive high conflict process. I don't care what color you are, you're not going to want to participate in that.
The false perception of African-American fathers as less involved
Terry Brennan: You know, it comes down to two things, Emma. First of all, yes it is, this perception, it is an issue in the community of African Americans for example, and you'll see statistics that say anywhere between 70% and 90%, depending upon the study that you'll look at, of African American children come from a ‘fatherless home'. That being said, if you define fatherlessness as they're living with a single mom and dad has every other weekend visitation, that's not an uninvolved dad. It might be a dad who wants to be involved more, but it's not an uninvolved dad. And there are studies out there that actually show African American fathers are amongst the most involved fathers.
Emma Johnson: Yes, yes. The most, more than white men and more than Hispanic, Asian men. That is very interesting and how do you explain that?
Terry Brennan: Well, let me just finish with one other point, and that is that while the percentage of fatherlessness in the African American community is higher, actually because they're a smaller segment of the overall population, the number of fatherless white children, just the pure number, outnumbers the fatherlessness African American children by a factor of 2:1.
Emma Johnson: Hm.
Terry Brennan: Okay, so this isn't a problem specific to the African American community, this is a problem with American society that we really need to address.
Emma Johnson: Okay, so we are closing in on an hour here, but I want you to share a little about your story and what motivated you to co-found Leading Women for Shared Parenting?
Terry Brennan’s motivation behind Leading Women for Shared Parenting
Terry Brennan: Yeah, sure. I was a divorced father here in Massachusetts and went through the entire process and in the court documents got a finding of fact that I was an engaged and capable dad who often read to the children, bathed the children, clothed the children, put the children to sleep, played with the children et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And even with that finding of fact got every other weekend and a Tuesday dinner. And that's when you realize that this really isn't about you being a good parent, quite frankly this is about my gender.
Emma Johnson: And how did that feel? When you heard the order, what did that feel like?
Terry Brennan: Well it's a feeling that's so horrible it's beyond my ability to put into words, Emma. I've asked people before what is the bigger gender problem in America today than to having your children taken from you for all but five days a month, because of your gender. And I know we tend to look at the issues where women still need to make strides in America, and I think there's plenty there is where they do. Being somebody that has researched every single shared parenting Bill in the United States and looking at the sponsors of each of those Bills, you can't do that work without seeing the few elected officials that we have who are women. And that's something that obviously we need to address as our society.
Terry Brennan: But there are issues, and I would put on top of that list, how fathers are treated in family courts that impact men on a negative basis as well. If we really want to aim for a gender equal society then we need to do it not just based upon the needs of one gender, we need to do it for everyone.
Terry Brennan: So anyways, after my own personal story I got involved with talking with others, other prominent attorneys and elected officials and so on, and what we found was a couple of things. First of all as I already mentioned, there was broad support amongst the public for shared parenting, but we found wherever we looked, a multitude of so-called Fathers' Rights organizations who were pushing for shared parenting, but knowing that women supported shared parenting in equal numbers as men, we actually didn't see any platform set up specifically for women to join. And so wanting a platform where women could show their support for shared parenting as well. That's how we formed Leading Women for Shared Parenting.
Terry Brennan: The other thing I'll say is this, being an amateur historian, we did do some research into other successful social movements, and when you do that you'll find a pattern. What I'll tell people is, when whites got involved with the push for African American civil rights, that fight was over. And when men got involved in the push for women's suffrage, that fight was over. And when we start to have more and more women come forward and put forth their advocacy for shared parenting this fight too will be won. As we get to the point where it becomes more and more obvious that the only people who are really advocating for the current system is the people who profit from that system, that's a system that's doomed for failure.
When the only people who advocate for a system are those who profit from it, that system is doomed
Terry Brennan: So as the research continues to come in and as we have more and more women advocating and more women joining, and we've got quite frankly, a very impressive list of women who've already joined and we're seeing that momentum build and begin to snowball, so we're very pleased with how things have gone so far.
Emma Johnson: It's wonderful, and I want you to leave us with your own story. So you got the Friday Night Special, but you fought it and you shared such a tender story with me about the fruits of that so if you care to share?
Terry Brennan: Ah it's nice of you that you remember that, that touches my heart Emma. I did, so again, I mentioned that when you talk with children who are now adults, but they grew up divorced, you'll find two consistencies. One is that having a bedroom in dad's house always mattered to them, but the other is that dad never stopped fighting for me, and that really made me feel like dad wanted me in his life, and I felt important because of that. And I too, went back to court, this time representing myself, I'm now in a shared parenting situation, and it's an interesting situation to go through, because I'm being somebody who reads the research religiously.
Terry Brennan: That's a very logical understanding of why shared parenting is best for kids, because I've read paper after paper and I've talked with expert after expert, but after I got shared parenting I will never forget, I was sitting on the couch watching a movie with my daughters and my youngest at one point in time, picked up my arm, brought it up to her, just kind of gently leaned forward and kissed me on the forearm. The reason why that was such a touching moment for me, is because that had never happened before. And that goes back to the findings of the experts involved, that you have to have a minimum of 35% with each parent just to have a chance to bond with that parent.
Terry Brennan: And so after I got shared parenting, I was able to have that 35% plus time with my children, we were now able to bond in such a way where they were able to show their love for me in a way that I hadn't experienced before when I had every other weekend. You know for that dads that are marginalized in the lives of their children, I would say you've got to keep pushing to be involved with your kids, it's really not about you it's about them. And the truth of the matter is, even if you are a dad whose been completely removed from your children and you haven't seen them in some time, you need to make the effort to get back involved with your kids. Maybe even get some help with a qualified therapist or talk with an advocate about the right things to do and you can certainly reach out to us at Leading Women for Shared Parenting. Because it's the right thing to do for your children and they'll thank you for it later on in their lives.
A message to single moms about shared parenting
Emma Johnson: And, what message would you have to the moms?
Terry Brennan: Wall to the moms I would say this, shared parenting is not only for dads, it's for moms as well, and I'll say that for several reasons but one of which is really primary. And that is, it's what's best for your children. We've got decades of studies that show that, and it's interesting because some of the women who we have joined Leading Women for Shared Parenting, in fact one of our biggest demographics, is mothers of sons. You know what the divorce rate is in this country, everybody knows what it is, and they are concerned that someday their son will grow up and be divorced and that he won't be treated fairly in family court and when he does and he gets named an ‘every other weekend dad' well, that just made her an ‘every other weekend grandma', okay. So every mother who has a son should be absolutely in favor of shared parenting.
Terry Brennan: But beyond it being best for your children, it's also best I think, for women involved, because as we've already talked about being a single parent especially on full-time basis can be exhausting and if you want to go out and have the time to be able to develop your career, to be able to have friendships and romantic relationships and God forbid maybe even some personal time, you've got to have somebody to take up that slack, as far as the child care responsibilities are concerned.
Emma Johnson: Right, and you're not a lesser parent, a lesser mother-
Terry Brennan: Not at all.
Emma Johnson: I will tell you, I had a turning point where, like I said, I've had every configuration, well I've always been the primary parent, no joke about that, but I just remember a time, doing this martyr thing a little bit I think, where I was really priding myself on having no after school care and always picking my kids from the bus stop, and [inaudible 01:07:14] in the family and making all this money, doing it all, like that was my story and that's my professional story. But I had this one day when the kids were with dad after school, he dropped them off at 6.00 pm, I had dinner ready, I had a great day at work, I went to the gym, I wasn't entertaining them for those painful hours after school, and we had the best evening.
Emma Johnson: I had fulfilled myself personally, professionally. They had a good time with their dad, their dad had a great time with them, and our quality time in the evening was so much better than had I dragged out the quantity and had all these hours with them that I wasn't enjoying. I was resentful because I didn't go to the gym that day, I was resentful because I should've working and not hanging out at the stupid playground, which I hate. It was a flip for me, I'm not that important, my kids don't need me that much, and it really is quality over quantity in parenting.
Mentally and emotionally exhausted parents’ time is not always best spent with their kids
Terry Brennan: Yeah, exactly. And when you're parenting full-time and working full-time, and trying to have a full rounded life, what you're really saying to me is I am mentally and emotionally exhausted. And so the time that you're spending with your children is time with a mentally and emotionally exhausted parent. That's obviously not best for either party involved, the child or the parent, so to give mom some time in order to enjoy life a little bit, to pursue some hobbies and interest, to have some friendships and so on and to be mentally rested, emotionally rested and in a good space, then the time with the children is obviously much healthier.
Emma Johnson: Thank you. Terry, I am so happy we've connected, I'm so grateful for your work. Thank you for being on the show.
Terry Brennan: Oh Emma, it's always a pleasure to talk with you, thank you very much. Emma Johnson: Terry Brennan, he's co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.
Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker,” her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.