Is Shared Parenting Best for Boys After Divorce?

Photo by Joe Gratz via Flickr
Photo by Joe Gratz via Flickr

I did not plan to get divorced. I did not plan to share legal and physical custody of my four children. In fact, in the early days of our divorce, I strongly believed that my then-husband should not evenly share parenting and decision making power with me.

I was wrong. Fortunately, our home state, Wisconsin, has a legal presumption toward shared parenting. Since the year 2000, Wisconsin courts have been legally required to presume joint legal custody  — which gives both parents equal rights to make decisions regarding their children — as in the best interests of the children. Wisconsin family courts are also required to “set a placement schedule that allows the child to have regularly occurring, meaningful periods of physical placement with each parent…that maximizes the amount of time the child may spend with each parent.”

At the time of our divorce, that presumption didn’t seem fair to me. After all, up until the point of our divorce, I’d been the parent to schedule and take the children to all of their doctor’s appointments. I’d been the parent who researched education, health and parenting information, and the parent who spent the bulk of her time performing childcare. Why should I, the clearly involved parent, be forced share time and decision making power with a man who couldn’t be bothered to be involved when we were married?

That’s what I thought at the time. It’s perhaps obvious, but important to note, that I was hurt, angry and bitter at that point in my life. I never wanted to be a divorced parent, never wanted to “share” my children. I wanted my life to continue as it had been. I wanted my kids’ lives to continue without more disruption than absolutely necessary.

And — full disclosure — I’ll admit that I thought I was the better parent. I knew the boys’ father would continue to be a necessary part of their lives, but in my mind, at that time, he was a necessary but unpleasant obstacle. At times, I wished he’d go away all together.

That was more than five years ago. Since then, our boys have begun their trips through puberty. Since then, I’ve learned more about the role of fathers and the importance of males to adolescent male development. I’ve seen my sons’ need for their father and my point of view has changed. My boys’ dad is not an unpleasant obstacle; he’s an integral part of their lives. My boys are doing well today in large part because their dad is an active part of their lives.

Our was not an amicable divorce. We were upset with one another and we had some pretty serious disagreements about what was in the best interests of our children. There were times — plenty of times! — I wished I had sole legal custody so I could do what was “best” for our children.

I’ve come to realize, though, that it’s best for kids to spend plenty of time with both mom and dad. It’s best if both parents are very involved in day-to-day parenting, and it’s best to put the needs of the kids ahead of the parents’ needs or desires.

I thank the Wisconsin court system for presuming that shared parenting is in the best interest of children, because without that presumption, I’m pretty sure I would have happily assumed the larger portion of parenting and relegated the boys’ dad to a lesser role. And that, I now know, would have been bad for my boys, bad for their dad and bad for me.

Yet shared parenting post-divorce is not the norm in most states. I was shocked when I learned that fact. It’s 2015, and yet most states do not presume both parents to be equal (and equally worthy of parenting) post-divorce.

There’s a movement afoot to change that. Advocates issuing a call for shared parenting, and a number of states, including South Dakota, Arkansas, Maryland, Connecticut and North Carolina, have considered or are considering shared parenting bills. Opponents argue that shared parenting is not always best, that some circumstances, including emotional and physical violence, necessitate a different parenting plan.

Here’s what I think: Emotional and physical violence should always been taken seriously, and measures should be put in place to protect children and ex-spouses from violence, threats and intimidation. Everyone who works in the family court system should be required to learn about domestic violence, and should have to document their understanding of the issue. Children should not have to spend time with abusive parents, and ex-spouses should not be required to work with an abusive ex.

However, the shared parenting bills being proposed give judges and families plenty of leeway to create parenting plans that are sensitive to families’ needs. No one is suggesting that children be sent to live with an abuser; the bills contain clauses to restrict parents’ involvement in case of domestic violence, incarceration or even “a pattern of willfully creating conflict.”

Instead, the bills make it easier for children of divorced parents to have access to both parents — something that’s been shown, over and over again, to be good for kids and good for society.

The truth is that divorcing parents don’t always make decisions according to their kids’ best interest. Anger and jealousy and fear often cloud their thinking and color their decisions. In my case, it was the court’s insistence on shared parenting that led to the co-parenting arrangement we have today, and I am so, so glad.

What do you think of shared parenting? 

The Building Boys Bulletin

The Building Boys Bulletin Newsletter gives you the facts, encouragement, and inspiration you need to help boys thrive. Written by Jennifer L.W. Fink, mom of four sons and author of Building Boys: Raising Great Guys in a World That Misunderstands Males, Building Boys Bulletin includes:

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“I learned a lot about helping boys thrive over the past 20+ years — most of it the hard way! I’m eager to share what I’ve learned to make your path a little easier.”   – Jennifer

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5 Responses

  1. I have been working with author and professional speaker Robert Roots for numerous years and I believe his mission and yours are similar. Among his objectives, he promotes the importance of co-parenting, specifically the importance of fathers in the lives of children.

    He has written an extraordinary book: Child Support is More Than Money!

    The book is enlightening and captivating while providing solutions for the challenges divorced families and single parent homes face.

    His candid articulation of this subject in Child Support is More Than Money lets us know that it’s time for the conversation on how to heal, reconnect and maintain respect within divorced families. A child of divorce and a divorced father Robert Roots is personally and professionally committed to bringing about the needed changes, as he states in his book.

    “I believe it’s time for the conversation to heal families and save children from being casualties of the senseless war between their parents. Hurt people, hurt people. It’s time to heal the hurt and restore love, respect and a commitment to the well-being of the children.” Robert Roots

    Thank you, for allowing me to share this information with you. I believe this book could be a great resource for all who have gone through the trials of co-parenting- it is a book that gets it right and offers non-bias solutions for the benefit of families and children.

    You can get a free download of the first few chapters of his book at

    Simone Ruiz

  2. I can relate to many things you said, Jennifer. I think I made good choices for not-always the best reasons. As a mother of two small sons, my reasons for co-parenting were about the boys, and about me. Right then I wasn’t thinking about the boys’ dad at all. But, many years later I can see that it worked well for all of us.

    I feel so strongly about co-parenting I have a blog and am finishing a book of co-parent stories, to help parents know they aren’t alone, and support their journey. I hope you’ll follow my blog.

    Karen Kristjanson

  3. Kudos to you! You deserve a lot of credit for sharing your story. I believe wholeheartedly in a presumption of shared custody. However, many of my female clients have the same reaction as you did to the idea of shared custody. It takes a lot to put aside the anger, points of view we have grown up with, etc., to accept what may be in the best interests of our children. Thank you.

  4. Thank you so much for this article. I appreciate the honesty of it. Those of us working to promote presumptions of shared parenting when parents separate need the voices of mothers, and especially those who came to appreciate the value of shared parenting from experience. Shared parenting comes with it’s own set of problems and compromises. But those problems are manageable and, in the absence of abuse, shared parenting is almost always best for children. I hope people who support shared parenting will consider joining and supporting organizations like National Parents Organization ( Together we can make our voices heard and press legislatures and courts to do the right thing by our children.

  5. Jennifer: Thank you so much for writing this article. This point means SO much more coming from a woman than from a man. Many divorced dads would like nothing more than to BE a father for their children, spend time with them and help them grow up to be good responsible adults. But we cannot because very often the custody of the children is given only (or mostly) to mom. When we try to appeal this, we are accused of trying to avoid the responsibility of having to pay the child support. Again, thank you for writing this and your work toward shared parenting.

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