How shared parenting laws promote gender equality

equal responsible parenting

The connection between equally shared parenting responsibilities and gender equality are clear. This post aims to give rise to the the fact that family court is the most powerful institution in this country when it comes to closing the pay gap. Why?

The gender pay gap continues because:

  1. Gender inequality in compensation and power in the workforce
  2. Gender inequality in time and energy spent on child care

Strong shared-parenting laws:

  1. Equalize parenting time with both parents when a couple splits — whether by way of divorce or separation, or, if they were never a couple to start with.
  2. This focuses on the kids — which equally shared parenting has been found to be the best for children in separated and divorced families.
  3. It frees both parents from gender roles stuck in the 1950s: Dads work and earn, and moms care for the children and are financially dependent on men.

Either you’re nodding your head as you read because this is so common sense. No? Read on …

50-50 parenting establishes true gender equality in the workplace

When both moms and dads are expected to care for kids in equal measure, men and women are now free to work and earn in equal measure.

When men care for children in equal measure for children, this informs business and government policies that govern family life: Flexible schedules, parental leave, child care affordability, access to family health care and planning — and equal promotion, hiring and pay of women. After all, when men in powerful positions experience first-hand what it takes to raise children (and not depend on at-home wives and mothers to handle the daily grind of family), they make better decisions for all of us.

 Researchers at Harvard, NYU and University of Utah found:

“Employed husbands in traditional marriages [with a full-time stay-at-home wife / mom], compared to those in modern marriages [with an employed wife], tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.”

Equal parenting laws make all parenting more equal

Shared parenting does not just apply to the approximately 10% of family court cases that go to trial — but all family law cases, which are informed by written and case law.

Example: Kentucky’s shared-parenting bill was passed in late 2018, and became law January, 2019. The bill passage received a lot of local media attention, though activists were not sure whether local attorneys and judges were paying attention. After all, just because a bill is enacted does not mean it is enforced.

However, in November, 2018, a friend of mine called around to a few family lawyers in Lexington, Ky., to find someone to help her with her divorce. “Every attorney I talked to kept saying: ‘Here in Kentucky, time sharing is 50-50,'” so my ex and I assumed that was what we would do.”

Similarly, I have heard from many moms in Florida who assume that the law in that state is equally shared parenting, because that is the norm in their county (though not in the whole state). It is not, but 50-50 physical custody is gaining momentum in that state, in part, because of a bill that has been active (but not passed) in recent years.

That assumption of equality in parenting is not relegated to divorcing couples. That new norm is chatted about among friends and other parents at middle school basketball games, and over happy hour drinks and on the golf course.

What may seem radical — moms and dads both responsible for the daily lives of children! — suddenly becomes normal for couples who break up — and infiltrates the minds of couples thinking about breaking up.

Suddenly, shared parenting is the norm. Including for coupled parents.

Shared parenting becomes the norm: starting for kids at birth.

When shared parenting is the norm, this also influences families in which parents co-habit and are married. After all, a full 40% of kids in the United States have parents who live separately — and that number is growing. Separated families are poised to be the majority of families with kids. What is expected of and practiced in co-parenting in separated families informs coupled parents what is expected of them.

In other words: When shared parenting is the norm in separated families, it promotes equally shared parenting in all families.

Equally shared parenting keeps women safer

When women and men equally share the time and labor of raising children, women are now freed to spend equal time and labor in building a career and earning. Financial equity is closely tied to power — including in relationships.

Writes domestic abuse survivor and advocate Nancy Salamone, in Forbes:

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a significant proportion of women who return to the relationship attribute their inability to deal with their finances as a major contributing factor, which is often enhanced by the fact that the abuser often has all of the economic and social standing and complete control over the family finances.

These women’s options are further limited by the fact that many who leave often face one or more additional barriers including having at least one dependent child, not being employed outside of the home, possessing no property that is solely theirs, and lacking access to cash or bank and credit accounts. For these reasons it is very likely that many of these women would experience a decline in living standards and security of life for themselves and their children if they were to leave their partner.

As a result of all of these combined factors, many survivors of domestic violence who summon the courage to leave the abusive relationship eventually return for financial reasons.

Yes, financial abuse victims can also be women who make good money, but there is a strong connection between earning and safety. One study found that women’s involvement in household finances is directly proportionate to their contribution to family income. In other words, the more a woman contributes to the family finances, the more involved she is with managing them, and the more agency she has.

Spanish researchers found the lowest incidence of domestic violence occurs in families in which both wife and husband work. “It is more likely that these more egalitarian couples share values that question the more traditional roles of gender, particularly those associated with the dominant role of the male and his attitude regarding violence,” said César Alonso, one of the study’s authors, from the UC3M Department of Economics.

There is also evidence that female domestic violence victims have a disadvantage in family and civil court because they have less money for good lawyers, less stable jobs (so that time off to appear in court is that much more costly), and bear more burden in arranging and paying for child care.

Let’s equal that playing field. Work now to close the gender pay and child care gap so that domestic violence victims are fewer, and better protected moving forward.

When a child is raised in a gender-equal family, the cycle of patriarchy is broken.

When gender equality in families is the norm, both fathers and mothers are expected to do their share of earning their own income, and raising the children. Today, only 28 percent of fathers who live in a home separate from their children (according to Pew) see their kids more than once per month. Fatherlessness is tied to high rates of incarceration, suicide, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, dropout rates.

Shared parenting frees men from patriarchy

After all, men are not the enemy — patriarch is the enemy. Both men and women are now free to express their nurturing, loving instincts that help children thrive. Gone will be toxic masculinity that taints so many of our institutions and relationships.

Toxic masculinity, if you’re not sure, was recently addressed in the American Psychological Association’s new “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.” The report addresses rigid notions of “what it means to be a man” that dominate our culture, including a focus on, “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence” and is linked “homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment.”

We owe our children better. We owe women better. As a society, we all deserve so much better.

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