Over the years, Iíve written about this topic dozens of times. Iíve talked about it even more. But here we are, once again because it is such relevant topic especially now. America needs to embrace shared parenting laws while encouraging positive co-parenting. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, more than half of divorces in the United States involve children. Now is the time we are discovering and implementing ways to collectively help these children and support divorcing healthy and co-parenting in a positive manner. We need awareness of these efforts across the country.
Creating Equal Parents
Iím not telling you this as a co-parent, because Iím not one. Iím telling you this as an adult woman who spent my childhood confused over my family situation. I became a family law attorney because I wanted to help other families and spare them from this type of conflict and turmoil. As a child of divorce, I was broken. My experience with a primary parent (my mom) and a secondary parent (my dad) for the majority of my childhood created an imbalance of power. Even as a child, I wondered if I was enough. Every conflict rested on my shoulders. Every money conversation, daily exposure to dirt talk about my parents from my parents themselves. I questioned if they loved me because they hated each other so much. I knew I was made of both of them and I wondered what it would have been like if my parents were equal parents. They equally created me, so why couldnít they equally parent me? I hated that they talked bad about each other and I hated that they expected me to hold judgement about the other parent. No child should ever have to experience that and ask such big questions.
Understanding Divorce Culture
Iím a collaborative divorce and family law attorney based in North Carolina. The type of law I practice is alternative dispute resolution, which means my clients stay out of the courtroom and resolve their conflicts through negotiation in a private setting. You can read more about collaborative law, mediation, and settlement by clicking here. This type of divorce method allows families to embrace the practices of shared parenting, co-parenting, and equal parenting. When compared to litigated divorce, alternative conflict resolution methods are often considered as healthier ways to divorce. While my work as an attorney is legally bound to one state, my overall mission is to help families divorce healthy nationwide. That inspired me to write my first book, The Cure for Divorce Culture. The book exposes the myths and stereotypes behind divorce culture to illuminate the cure and incite transformation nationwide. A large portion of that goal focuses on prioritizing families. As I wrote the book, I researched statistics of children who experienced divorce, interviewed adult children who came from divorced homes, and studied the psychological impacts of observing conflict as a child. While it was fascinating, it was disheartening. I looked at how divorce impacts future generations. These findings unveiled in my book show that children of litigated divorce have an increased risk of complications in personal relationships, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and violence:
- 200% of children are more likely to get divorced when both spouses come from a divorced home
- 50% more likely to get divorced when one spouse is from a divorced home
- 18.9% of children living with one parent have a drug or alcohol problem
- 18.8% of children of divorce suffered from a lifetime of alcohol dependence
- 30% increase in likelihood of suicide attempts by adult children of divorce
- 82% of 56 school shooters grew up in dysfunctional families and/or with separated parents
Prioritizing Americaís Future Generations
As Americans, we need to do better. We need to prioritize the safety, health, and happiness of children of divorce. They are looking to us for help and we need to deliver with shared parenting legislation in each state across the nation. I serve on the National Board of Directors for the National Parents Organization which is a charitable and educational organization that promotes shared parenting. The organization focuses on family court reform, research and public education with the goal to make shared parenting the general norm in every state. In addition to happier and healthier children, there are other benefits as well. I recently read an article in Forbes about how shared parenting can reduce the gender pay gap. The National Parents Organization released a report card which grades each state based on its shared parenting laws, or lack thereof. North Carolina was given a D+ grade. This is unacceptable. While itís better than some states, we must improve our laws to protect the children of North Carolina. Iím working on presenting a shared parenting bill to the North Carolina General Assembly. Along with others, we are starting to draft a bill for shared parenting to be presented before state lawmakers with the help of the local chapter volunteers within the National Parents Organization. Weíre modeling our efforts after states, like Kentucky, that have created outstanding shared parenting laws. In 2018, the state of Kentucky unanimously passed a bill that created a temporary joint custody and equal parenting time presumption. This bill fosters a 50/50 equal opportunity for both parents at the moment of separation. This creates a standard of equality for parents at the outset. A presumption of equality, isn’t that what this nation is trying to achieve? I would like to note that in cases of abuse or neglect or newborn children there are exceptions which is important for the health and wellbeing of children and families in our state.
To date, the majority of divorces involving children in North Carolina happen in the traditional divorce system where shared parenting is not a priority. As a co-founder of the North Carolina Collaborative Attorney Network (NC-CAN), we are working to spread awareness of collaborative law and non-court options around divorce within the state. For my involvement with this organization and others nationwide, I was named a 2020 ďLeader in the LawĒ by NC Lawyers Weekly. Iím proud of our efforts thus far, but we have to do more Ė we have to make this shared parenting law a reality for the millions of children of North Carolina who are depending on us.
How You Can Help
Join me in this mission. You can help by getting the attention of your local legislatures and letting them know why you support shared parenting laws. Send them information about the legislation passed in Kentucky and the positive outcomes over the past several years. In addition, you can partner with me and the National Parents Organization. The nonprofit works to target key state legislators to move important legislation. To make their national efforts more effective, they need to be able to identify each legislatorís constituents. You can join this effort by taking just a few minutes to complete this Legislative Advocate Form. It will show you how to identify your state legislators and share that information with the organization. When there is important legislation pending in your state, the nonprofit will let you know how you can advance that legislation by contacting your legislators.
You can also directly connect with me on social media by following @ANRLaw. I also have a podcast, ďDivorce, Healthy! with Ashley-Nicole Russell,Ē and a YouTube channel, ďAshley-Nicole Esq.,Ē to further share this mission. These platforms allow me to directly connect with a nationwide audience to share advice, information, and inspiration.
If you and your spouse are considering separation or divorce, I want you to know that it can be done in a healthy manner. With three locations across North Carolina in Greenville, Beaufort, and Raleigh, AN|R Law is committed to serving families statewide. Reach out to our team to discuss a way that your divorce doesnít have to create lifelong trauma for your children. Click here to read more about my practice and healthy methods of divorce including collaborative, mediation, and settlement.