Every year the Legislature rightly spends millions of dollars on children's health care, foster care and social services. At the same time, we perennially overlook an opportunity to improve their lives without spending a penny -- by allowing children healthy access to two loving parents.
Although about 40 percent of children in America grow up without the active involvement of a father, our state statutes discourage shared parenting. Even if judges believe equal time is in a child's best interest, our statute limits their discretion. People have been known to "shop" the states to find the most restrictive parenting schedules -- and move to our state.
Washington's de facto "every other weekend" visitation schedule compares badly with 28 states that encourage "frequent and continuing contact" with both parents. Study after study indicates children fare far better in joint custodial arrangements than in single custody -- emotionally, educationally and financially. Not a single study advocates for the routine use of the restrictive schedule handed out in Washington.
Why, then, does Washington disregard the research and strides made by other states? Every year for the past 10 years, I have introduced a shared-parenting bill, and every year that bill has died. Most of the resistance comes from special interest groups opposed to even a modest increase of in non-custodial parents' time with their children from about 21 percent to 33 percent annually
This is in no one's best interest. As Karen DeCrow, former president of the National Organization for Women, said: "I urge a presumption of joint custody of the children. Shared parenting is not only fair to men and children, it is the best option for women. ... Most of us have acknowledged that women can do everything that men can do. It is time now for us to acknowledge that men can do everything women can do." Sad to say, however, the current NOW leadership opposes shared-parenting legislation, relegating to second-class status a generation of men who, ironically, were brought up to recognize the equality of the sexes.
My bill would create a standard allowing qualified parents at least one-third residential time with their children. Although this adds merely 12 percent more time than the current system, studies show that it makes a world of difference. It sends the message that parents no longer have to fight expensive court battles to maintain relationships with their children, and it removes children from the winner-take-all dynamic of many divorces.
Although my bill fell short this year, I saw signs of growing support that bode well for the 2007 legislative session. If you agree, I urge you to contact my office or the offices of your state legislators.
It's time Washington joined the majority of states with progressive parenting schedules. Children in other states are enjoying more time with fathers and reaping the benefits of healthier families. So can ours.
Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, is chairman of the Senate Government Operations & Elections Committee and represents the cities of Puyallup, Milton, portions of Fife and Edgewood, and the communities of Midland and Summit/South Hill.
Scource: SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER