Rosenblum: Divorced dads get big gift from fired-up moms

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 8, 2013 - 6:38 PM

It’s not all wrapped up yet, but a big gift is arriving for divorced dads who want equal time with their kids.

Launched in early May and already claiming a broad spectrum of members across the United States and Canada, a new advocacy group is determined to finally make equally shared parenting a reality.

These aren’t a bunch of guys. Every member is a woman.

Leading Women for Shared Parenting (www.lw4sp.org), founded in May in Massachusetts, will launch officially on Father’s Day. Many members aren’t waiting.

Paulette MacDonald, former president of the Canadian Equal Parenting Council, is throwing a launch party June 11 in Toronto, bringing in experts on family law to speak to the benefits of having mom and dad play equal roles in children’s lives post-divorce.

Members, who include congresswomen on both sides of the aisle, social workers, professors, family lawyers, domestic abuse experts, grandmothers and daughters raised by loving dads, say the only way to finally turn the corner on this long-brewing “fathers’ issue” is for women to step up and fight on their behalf.

“There has been no platform from which women can voice their opinion,” said Terry Brennan, a divorced father in Massachusetts who suggested the idea to a few female colleagues, then stepped out of the way.

“If you look at history, no group involved in any kind of struggle can affect change on their own,” Brennan said. “When women start to add their voice to this, it will get done.”

Minnesota’s Molly Olson, volunteer founder of the nonprofit Center for Parental Responsibility, was thrilled to be asked to join. Olson has been fighting for family law reform in Minnesota for more than a dozen years.

She pointed out that feminist Karen DeCrow, former president of National Organization for Women, and Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the conservative Eagle Forum, are both Leading Women members.

“These two women couldn’t be further apart on other issues,” Olson said, “but they both support equally shared parenting.”

In fact, most people do. William Fabricius, an associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University, found no statistical difference between the sexes when it came to supporting shared parenting. Both men and women most commonly responded that courts should award equally shared custody arrangements in several different hypothetical cases involving child custody after divorce, he and colleagues found in a 2010 study, published in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law.

Still, laws have been slow to catch up.

The majority of divorced dads, and some divorced moms, find themselves with “joint custody,” an arrangement that creates an immediate power imbalance as one parent is limited to kid-time every other weekend and one weeknight — if they’re lucky. A 2009 review by Olson’s CPR found that mothers were awarded sole physical custody 70 percent of the time in Ramsey County alone.

Time with kids often is tied to financial contributions, which makes a painful passage in a family’s life ever more fraught.

The biggest pushback comes from family law attorneys who contend that each divorce has special circumstances, and should be dealt with accordingly. But there is some shifting in their ranks.

Family law attorney Amy Sherman, a Leading Women member from Omaha, Neb., has raised two adult sons in a shared parenting arrangement. “As a divorce lawyer, I’ve seen it all, or at least I think I’ve seen it all,” she said with a laugh. “But I really do think it’s best for kids.”

A few members have strong ties to domestic abuse programs, which is essential to assure that protections are written into bills in the small number of cases where shared parenting is not advised. Teri Stoddard, program director for SAVE, a Maryland-based domestic abuse program, has been a shared parenting advocate since her son had a baby with his on-again-off-again girlfriend 10 years ago.

“A lot of noncustodial moms are going through the same problems,” Stoddard said. “We’re going to see a revolution when more mothers are affected.”

Licensed clinical social worker Terry Gaspard of Providence, R.I., is concerned with damage that can be done to daughters who don’t have equal access to their dads after divorce. “A deep wound can be created,” said Gaspard, co-creator of the website movingpastdivorce.com.

An equally shared parenting bill passed in both the Minnesota House and Senate in 2012, but Gov. Dayton didn’t sign it into law, concerned about locking in equations particularly with “the most challenging divorces.”

The issue went nowhere in 2013, but isn’t dead yet. “I think the governor would be willing to get involved if supporters could get some traction with the Legislature and a compromise could be reached,” Dayton’s spokeswoman, Katharine Tinucci, said Thursday.

With the creation of LW4SP, traction is coming.

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com

612-673-7350

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