Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins
A READER’S RESPONSE TO OUR COLUMN ABOUT SHARED CUSTODY: As I was reading my paper the other morning, the headline of your column jumped out at me: "Mileage Between Homes Makes Divided Child Custody Difficult". I am the Mother of a happy, emotionally stable 11-year old son whose custody I have shared with his father for the past nine years. For logistical reasons (many of which you mentioned in your column), it has been our choice to reside in the same community.
My former husband and I have been complimented by teachers, friends and co-workers about the way in which we have been able to continue our “partnership” to parent our son. I have never thought it was in my child's best interest to see his father only on occasional weekends. He needs his father's guidance, love, and support on a regular basis just as much as he needs mine.
I have to tell you that I feel your advice to this father of two young children was detrimental to the development, stability and emotional well-being of his children. If the father is serious about wanting to maintain a relationship with his children, wouldn't it have been better to advise him to move closer to them?
You have done a disservice to parents everywhere who are desperately trying to maintain a relationship with their children even though the marital relationship is no longer in tact. Many people tried to tell me that shared parenting would never work and would result in an emotionally distraught child. Thankfully, I can tell you we have proved them wrong!
RESPONSE: We are always pleased to hear about success stories – of which we receive very few – and congratulate you and your former husband on being able to coordinate a plan that is in your child’s best interests. However, unlike the situation presented to us about which you write, it appears that 1) you and your former spouse do not live 45 minutes apart in different school districts, 2) your former spouse does not cart your son around an extra hour and a half per day taking him to school, 3) you and your former spouse use the same daycare, 4) your former spouse has suitable living arrangements for your son, and 5) you and your former spouse have made a coordinated plan that serves your child’s best interests. We reiterate that shared custody is not for everyone.
SOLOFACT: When the interests of children are put in issue, family court judges often appoint guardians for the purpose of the litigation - called "guardians ad litem". However, many of these appointments are made 1) without notice to the parents and 2) with too little guidance and judicial direction to the guardian ad litem. There are few consistent standards about when guardians should be appointed and the nature of their roles.
After an exhaustive study, The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers published "Representing Children: Standards for Attorneys and Guardians ad Litem in Custody or Visitation Proceedings." Critically acclaimed in a number of states, these guidelines provide, among other things, that 1) courts should not routinely appoint attorneys or guardians ad litem unless requested by both parents or based upon findings of special needs; 2) if appointed, the court should specify the duties of the guardian ad litem in writing; and 3) to be eligible for appointment, a person should be experienced and trained in the nuances of representing children. We believe this is the correct approach.