Hawaii unable to make progress in improving grade for shared parenting efforts
by Tina Lia, Chair, Hawaii Affiliate of National Parents Organization
National Parents Organization (NPO) released a groundbreaking study in 2014, the first of its kind to analyze and rank each state on its child custody statutes. This Shared Parenting Report Card study was motivated by the impact that family courts have on children. The focus was on how each state addresses the promotion of shared parenting in its legislative statutes, and Hawaii’s “C-” grade that year was a bleak reflection of the lack of progress we’ve made towards better outcomes for our children.
Five years later, the 2019 Shared Parenting Report Card has been released, and Hawaii still has made no significant progress.
The consensus among leading child development research organizations confirms that children do best when they have equal access to both loving, fit parents after divorce or separation. Hawaii has fallen behind on this issue, and children are suffering because our elected leaders have failed to make shared parenting a priority.
NPO has compiled some of the best studies available on this matter, viewable on our website, and the data is clear. The well-being of children is directly impacted by their ability to have meaningful relationships with both parents. Shared parenting and a legal presumption of equal parenting time is best for children in most cases.
Public opinion is in agreement. Support for shared parenting is overwhelming, with polls showing between 70 and 80% in favor. This support encompasses multiple demographics including age, race, sex and political party. We know that our current system encourages an adversarial winner-take-all battle in court, and that it is the children who end up losing when custody litigation takes precedence over co-parenting.
Children with shared parenting have better relationships with both parents, do better in school, are less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety and are less likely to drink, smoke or do drugs. Conversely, agencies including the Center for Disease Control, the Department of Justice and the Census Bureau report alarming risk factors for children of single parents. Everything from violence to substance abuse to teen pregnancy is more of a risk when a child is missing a parent in their life.
Last year, Kentucky became the first state in the nation to pass shared parenting legislation with a rebuttable presumption of equal parenting. What this means is that children in Kentucky now have a fair starting point when their parents go to court for custody. Both parents now have equal standing when petitioning for custody and maximum parenting time.
With this monumental legislative achievement, the NPO’s Shared Parenting Report Card grade for Kentucky has leaped from a dismal “D-” in 2014 to a straight “A” in 2019. The state’s family court caseload and domestic violence cases are declining. Parental conflict has diminished, and children are being given a chance to maintain strong bonds with both of their parents.
By contrast, Hawaii’s “C” grade for the 2019 Shared Parenting Report Card shows that there is much more to be done in our state.
In fact, there has been no legislative improvement in this area over the past five years, and the slight grade increase reflects only a change in new algorithms used to conduct the study. With the knowledge that shared parenting increases child support compliance, reduces conflict and domestic violence and is preferred by children in most cases, we need to ask ourselves why Hawaii’s legislature has not prioritized this issue. Empirical evidence shows that requiring courts to begin with a presumption of equal parenting time is in the child’s best interest, and we must be able to work together with family law attorneys, domestic violence organizations and other diverse groups to do what is right for our keiki.
I’ve seen firsthand the harmful effects that inequality in child custody statutes can have on a family, and that’s why I joined National Parents Organization to work toward positive change.
Our children deserve so much better than the suffering caused by this adversarial system that encourages conflict and incentivizes parental alienation. We will never get back those years missed and may never fully repair the damage caused by these custody decisions and the antiquated statutes that have allowed them to continue, but we can move forward and do better for our children’s future. The kids of today are growing up and starting to understand how the family courts have denied them full, meaningful relationships with fit parents who love them. They will be the voice of this movement. What will we tell them when they ask about the progress we’ve made?
Tina Lia is the chair for the Hawaii affiliate of National Parents Organization
2019 Shared Parenting Report Card
2014 Shared Parenting Report Card