Following divorce or separation, equal parenting is integral for kids' well-being. A new report from the National Parents Organization shows how states stack up when it comes to statutory provisions promoting shared parenting.

By Maressa Brown
September 24, 2019
Photo illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Getty Images (2)

No one can argue with the fact that successful co-parenting benefits everyone involved—especially a child whose parents continue to share responsibilities post-separation or divorce. Unfortunately, many state governments appear to be the last ones onboard with this conclusion.

According to a new report card on shared parenting from the National Parents Organization (NPO), a third of states received a D+ grade or worse for how well their child custody statutes encourage an arrangement where children spend equal time with both parents after divorce or separation.

The report card served as an update to the organization's 2014 evaluation of states' statutory provisions encouraging shared parenting, which they defined as an arrangement where both parents have equal responsibility for raising their child(ren). "We define shared parenting as, at a minimum, a parent has a third of the time with a child," says Ginger Gentile, deputy executive director of the National Parents Organization. "We're getting away from the 1950s model of the kids are with one parent, often the mom, and they often see the visiting parent on the weekends."

The good news: NPO pointed out that over the past five years, 13 shared parenting bills in nine states have been signed into law. Meanwhile, the number of states that are considered "shared parenting" states (which means they got a C grade or higher) increased from 26 in 2014 to 34 in 2019.

The bad news: Seventeen states got Ds or Fs.

How Grades Were Determined

NPO determined grades on 21 factors related to each state's child custody statutes, including whether the statutes explicitly permit shared parenting, if they include a policy encouraging shared parenting and whether they express a preference for shared parenting.

The Best States for Shared Parenting

1. Kentucky: A

Kentucky was the first state to enact an explicit rebuttable presumption of joint legal custody and equal physical custody for temporary and final court orders, according to the report. That means that equally shared decision-making and joint time with a child is assumed (unless there is sufficient evidence supporting the need for a different arrangement).

"This law has been active for a year, and court reports have showed divorce filings went down more than 10 percent and also, domestic violence claims went down," Gentile says. The reason? She says people who run shelters for victims of domestic abuse theorize that if there is less conflict post-divorce, there is going to be less domestic violence.

2. Arizona: A- 

Arizona got props for "maximizing time provision," which means that the law includes a preference for "maximizing each parents time with the children," according to the report.

3. District of Columbia: B+

D.C. scored so well in part thanks to a statutorily mandated "rebuttable assumption that joint custody is in the best interest of the child or children," except when there are factors such as abuse and neglect.

4. Iowa and Nevada: B

The report states that Iowa "has a strong presumption of joint legal custody." And Nevada has a policy statement encouraging "parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing."

6-9. Louisiana, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin ('B-')

The Worst States for Shared Parenting

1-2. New York and Rhode Island: F

"New York and Rhode Island are the only two states that have nothing written at all concerning shared parenting," Gentile notes. New York is also considered a battleground state for shared parenting statues, having introduced one of the largest numbers of shared parenting bills (11) since 2014, but none has passed. And Rhode Island failed to introduce any shared parenting bills between 2014 and 2019.

3-10. Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina :D-

For more details on these states' grades, and to find out how your state fared, check out the NPO report card.

The Bottom Line

The organization's report also drives home the case that equal, shared parenting bolsters children's well-being, noting that children in fatherless or single-parent families represent 63 percent of teen suicides, 71 percent of high school dropouts and 90 percent of homeless and runaway children.

Gentile elaborates, "The whole point of shared parenting isn't that parents have equal rights, but it's that the conflict is reduced, and kids aren't treated as property and fought over. They are treated as human beings with a right to relationships with both parents."

Mental health care providers like Barrie Sueskind, MFT, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, California, agree that this is the best route for children and families. "It is important for children to have a cohesive family unit even when parents are separated or divorced," Sueskind says. "Equalizing time kids spend with both parents helps to increase the investment of both parents as caregivers and decision-makers. Shared parenting contributes to kids building important attachment bonds with both parents. Attachment is responsible for kids' sense of security in the world. Strong attachment to two caregivers helps to build confidence and high self-esteem. It also contributes to kids' ability to develop the trust and intimacy necessary for friendships and ultimately their own romantic relationships."

That said, here's hoping insight and evaluations like the NPO's serve to drive more states to pass and stand by laws that benefit kids.

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