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Issues Behind the Message of Equal Parents' Week

The world of custodial and noncustodial is the forum for parental rights and responsibiities of parents who are divorced or never married. Although joint legal custody is intended to provide for sharing of parental rights and responsibilities, it has evolved to create a "one parent", "one household" syndrome which devalues the parent who becomes the noncustodial parent.

In most cases, custodial parents are granted the majority of custodial time, and noncustodial parents are granted "every other weekend" orders.  Once they become a noncustodial parent, most noncustodial parents cannot obtain more time than this, and have little or no recourse if they are denied custody of their children, since many judges are unwilling to enforce custody orders.

Child support laws in many states have changed in two major respects: (1) levels of support now exceed what many middle and lower income parents can afford; and (2) affordability to the paying parent is not a factor in calculating child support (basic living expenses of the paying parent such as rent, food and car payments are often disregarded in calculating the amount of support).

Consequently, many middle and lower income noncustodial parents fall behind through no fault of their own. They become unable to meet their own basic living expenses, and child support arrearages accrue monthly. The financial pressure becomes a never-ending cycle and permanent hardship...one they face every day...in extreme cases, it becomes unbearable. Some states impose punitive consequences such as loss of vocational and driver's licenses--without regard to the reason for the arrearages. When parents are denied return of their vocational or driver's licenses--or are incarcerated--because they are unable to pay off support arrearages, they can lose their jobs, as well as the ability to regain employment. They then become unable to pay any child support, and ultimately, their livelihood is destroyed. While millions of dollars of child support arrearages are deemed owed by "deadbeat" parents, rarely do statistics distinguish between those parents who willfully evade paying child support, and those arrearages which result from inability to afford the amount of child support ordered--which, in reality, accounts for the majority of arrearages.

Lack of attention to and resolution of these problems faced by noncustodial parents with respect to custody and support, as well as other problems such as false abuse allegations, parental alienation, and unfounded and bad faith moveaways, originate from a misperception which prevails through society and our justice system: unmarried parents are not given equal status as parents.

Equal treatment of parents mandates that they share their rights and responsibilities equally. Equality, however, is not just a legal concept.  Issues of equity and equality of unmarried parents address a genuine focus on the needs and rights of children by virtue of this fundamental truth:  issues that adversely affect a parent's ability to raise and nurture their children adversely affect children.

Parenting is a way of life. It is the spirit of unconditional love and sacrifice embraced by parents in the day-to-day commitment of making their children their first priority. Financial hardship or devastation of a parent's livelihood adversely impacts the financial and emotional resources of parents. The child support and custody problems faced by noncustodial parents are not only unjuste, they take a toll on their ability to meet their children's needs and function as parents.

"Every other weekend" orders--which allow parents to spend an average of four days a month with their children--along with lack of involvement in day-to-day co-parenting, force many parents and children to undergo an inevitable and destructive adjustment: detachment. When noncustodial parents are reduced to visitors, their children do not fully perceive them, emotionally and psychologically, as true parents. Known only too well by parents--but often disregarded by judges and psychologists--once this happens, their bond with their children deteriorates, or becomes destroyed.  Lack of contact with siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents disintegrates the bonds among family members and destroys the ability of families to function as a family. For those parents, children, and family members who struggle to maintain their family bonds, the choice to love is a choice to live with the pain of not having in their lives and being in the lives of the people they love...a pain that never goes away.

Noncustodial parents want to have the time and opportunity to give their children as much love as they have for them. They want their children to know how much love they have to give them. Most of all, they want their children to benefit from the love they are able to give, not from the love they are limited to giving.

Our values are our choices, and our choices are our values. It is through day-to-day living experiences that we set an example of right and wrong, what we believe and how we should live. It is through our everyday choices we set an example of the values that govern our decisions and our lives.

Children are not taught values by schools, government, businesses...or elsewhere. Children learn the meaning of right and wrong from their parents. Values children do not live with they often do not learn.  Clearly, an absence of values contributes to increases in juvenile crime, drug use, teen pregnancies, and decrease in social morality.

When we are friendly to people who do not behave in kind...when we choose to compromise and it is a choice to live with hardship...when we choose to sacrifice because the welfare of another outweighs the burden it places on us...when we choose to resolve conflict with reasonablenes and patience, not ego and aggression...children learn that these are the right things to do. When children see us make the choice to listen and understand others, and know they can turn to us and we are no less willing to be there for them, we have done more than teach them one of the most important lessons in life...we have taught them the meaning of love.

In doing all these things, the most important thing you have done is to be a parent.

Equal Parents' Week is a call to awareness of a simple truth parents have known all along: the most important role that parents can play, and must play, is to parent through contact and time spent with their children.