A new Missouri parenting law may cause more conflict than it resolves

Related Story

JEFFERSON CITY - A new Missouri law that promotes shared parenting after divorce or separation will take effect August 28, but it could have some consequences.

According to Gov. Jay Nixon’s office, the law “creates a more equalized approach to child custody and visitation.” Gov. Nixon signed the bill July 1.

Much research, such as from The Journal of the American Psychological Association, suggests that shared parenting after divorce or separation best benefits a child.

“The evidence supports shared residential arrangements for children under 4 years of age whose parents live apart from each other,” the journal says.

According to the U.S Department of Justice, fatherless homes account for 63 percent of teen suicides, 85 percent of children with behavioral disorders and 90 percent of homeless and runaway children.

While much research supports shared parenting, Dr. Lawrence Ganong, Human Development and Family Science and Nursing professor at the University of Missouri who does research on co-parenting, thinks it is not for everyone.

“Shared parenting sounds great on paper. The research indicates that if divorced parents can get along in rearing their children, that’s the best situation for their children,” Dr. Ganong said. “However, mandating that parents have to work together does not always work very well.”

The current custody laws require separated parents to create a parenting plan that works for them. The new law will cause the time parents spend with their children to be split as evenly as possible.

Dr. Ganong called this a “one size fits all solution,” which he said is a problem because all families are different. He is afraid there will be consequences of the law, saying “parents who do not get along will be forced to interact in ways that will take them back to courts more often, may cause more conflict, and kids get caught in the middle.”

Dr. Ganong said supporters of the law include fathers’ rights groups because fathers often do not get sole or primary custody.

He also said there is a contradiction in views of parenting in the U.S.

“The really interesting thing in our country is the legal system does not tell married parents how much time mom and dad should spend with their kids,” he said, “but as soon as you are divorced the State of Missouri tells you ‘oh, here is what you do.’”

Dr. Ganong thinks that shared parenting is in the best interest of the child when the parents get along, but that the research indicates that parents should figure out what works for them on an individual basis, and there are many variations that work. He said he supports parents working cooperatively together and anything they could go through to help them do this because parental conflict is always bad for children. Dr. Ganong will follow this law with interest and looks forward to seeing the outcomes of it.