This article was first published by EastIdahoNews.com.
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — When a marriage begins to unravel it comes with a great deal of confusing and mixed emotions.
There are often months of loneliness, despair, and uncertainty as couples try to decide if the marriage is worth saving. Often a separation or a divorce can take painful months.
And when a divorce is finalized there are some tough decisions to make — especially if a couple has children. The divorcing couple, who were once deeply in love, are now forced to share the one remaining connection they had with each other — their kids.
Determining the rules of joint custody — the amount of time a child will live with either parent — is difficult for parents and children and the agreements aren’t always equal.
That’s particularly true in Idaho, where custody is frequently not divvied up equally between parents.
Crunching the numbers
Divorce is becoming increasingly common in Idaho. 24/7 Wall Street reports Idaho has the second highest divorce rate in the country.
“Nearly 22 per every 1,000 married individuals got a divorce in 2016,” the report states.
Another report indicates Idaho has one of the lowest rates in the nation for a father’s child custody time.
Custody X Change, a company that helps divorced parents create parenting plans, determined that a father in Idaho is likely to receive about 24-percent of child custody time.
The survey, which included people living in eastern Idaho, determined the child custody times for fathers in each state by spending four months talking to legal professionals in all 50 states.
Ben Coltrin, President and Co-Founder of Custody X Change, tells EastIdahoNews.com the reason dads get less custody time in many states is because, traditionally, fathers have been the breadwinners and are not with the kids as much as the mother. But he says that trend is changing.
“There are a lot more moms that are working now. So, if both parents are working (after divorce), there shouldn’t be a preference (in the court system) to one or the other,” Coltrin says.
Under Idaho State Law, courts are supposed to look at what’s best for the child.
Idaho Falls Attorney David Johnson says determining what’s best for the child includes looking at past history.
“What has taken place in the past is generally what takes place in the future, as far as the primary care of the children,” Johnson says.
If there were a situation where a father provided the majority of the child care, Johnson says people in the court system would consider that in making custody decisions.
In states like Nevada and Colorado, the same report shows divorced fathers are likely to receive 50-percent custody of their children.
Coltrin says there may be some political correlations for fathers and custody time. Republican-majority states have been the least eager to move toward equal custody time for both parents, his research found.
The Father’s Rights Movement
In 2017, 25 states considered laws to promote shared custody of children after divorce.
Members of the Idaho Father’s Rights movement are looking to pass similar legislation in the Gem state.
“Idaho’s children deserve the best. They deserve to have equal access to both parents,” states the group’s Facebook page.
The group held a rally on the steps of the Idaho capitol this Father’s Day, June 17, in hopes of garnering enough support for the proposal.
Society’s attitude toward fathers
Some argue that children are best served by being with their mother exclusively. Johnson refers to this notion as the “tender years” doctrine.
In 2006, the National Fatherhood Initiative selected 701 American men to participate in a study about fathers. The survey determined that 99-percent of those fathers “agreed that being a father was a very important part of who they are.”
One-third of these men felt they were unimportant, or not particularly necessary in their child’s life. This attitude was shaped by their perception of society’s attitude about men and fathers.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America -– 1 in 3 kids –- live in biological father-absent homes.
Extensive social-science research shows that children benefit from having an involved father, the Washington Post reports. Children with active fathers tend to have higher self-esteem and better academic records.
Johnson feels Bonneville County judges work hard to ensure there is no gender bias in their evaluation of each case, but the outcome of divorce cases is not always favorable to fathers.
“Every judge will handle a certain amount of family law cases, but magistrates may not have any specific training in family law. So, as an attorney, you have to match your client with a judge that would (be most likely to rule in favor of) their best interests,” Johnson says.
“If custody is viewed as a way to validate yourself or control someone you now perceive as an enemy, then that’s the wrong mentality. (It should be) about the kids.”
Ultimately, Johnson says children do better when they have both parents involved in their life working together for the children’s well being.
“Our study shows 40-percent of states aim to give equal time with each parent,” Coltrin says. “We’re hoping this study will affect the dialogue that’s taking place as states consider changing their custody laws.”