When people think about divorce proceedings and parenting time discussions, it's likely not many have football on their minds. But maybe they should, since both are, at least metaphorically, contact, and in some cases, spectator sports. And with the Super Bowl fresh in our minds, I thought it would be a good time to put on some fast acting Tinactin and offer my best John Madden-like analysis of how the Super Bowl might actually be viewed as a metaphor for arguments that would support legal presumptions for shared parenting time, otherwise known as joint physical custody
When Sunday's game kicked off, the score was 0-0, and both teams were on a level playing field so-to-speak. However, if this were a parenting time discussion during a divorce proceeding in most states, the starting point would be a score of 28-7 or some other ridiculous lop-sided figure. That's because current laws in most states do not make a legal presumption for shared parenting (usually about 45-percent or more parenting time for each parent), and instead existing laws create unequal starting points in shared parenting discussions. That usually means if both parents can't agree on shared parenting (joint physical custody), there's a good chance the mother will end up with sole physical custody. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) found that in divorces with contested custody, mothers received sole physical custody 72-percent of the time. Edivorcepapers.com puts that figure at 82-percent in similar situations of contested custody.
Now think of the Steelers and Packers as the two divorcing parents. What each team did to prepare for the Super Bowl was paramount to their performance. If there was a weakness on the part of one team, it's highly likely the other team would call attention to it through the plays they called or defense they played. It was their opportunity to essentially rebut any suggestion that the game should end just as it started, in a tie. Similarly, a legal presumption for shared parenting comes with the ability to rebut it, the chance to make public examples where the other parent is not fit for shared parenting time.
Along the way, the referees made sure the game flowed within the context of NFL rules. When there were close or controversial calls, the officials had the final say. Not unlike the referees in Sunday's Super Bowl, judges in family court have the final say in cases where parents can't agree on parenting time. A legal presumption for shared parenting is a starting point. Judges have the ability to overrule that presumption in situations where it is successfully rebutted.
Thousands of fans crowded into Cowboys Stadium, and millions more watched it on television. They're the most important part of this entire equation. Without fans, the NFL would not be such a huge success. And I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that if one team played only one quarter of Sunday's game, the fans would feel cheated. They want to see both teams equally involved. Children are no different. Studies indicate the large majority of children want to spend and benefit from time with both parents, not just 20- or 25-percent but an equal amount of participation.
As the final seconds ticked down to zero, only the Packers earned the right to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy and be declared Super Bowl champions. This is where the similarities between the big game and divorce proceedings end. A presumption of shared parenting rewards the children by recognizing in most situations they deserve equal time or something close to it with each parent. Too often terms like joint physical custody create a winner-take-all mentality and lead only to more conflict, often reducing the time children get to spend with one parent.
Shared parenting presumptions ensure that both parents start at the same point (a tied score) in discussions about how much time children should spent with each parent. If there are situations in which one parent is not fit for an equal amount of shared parenting time (bad preparation), it will be highlighted during the rebuttable of any presumption. Mediators, court officials and, if need be, a judge (referees) should see to it that proper decisions are rendered. In most situations, all family members would best be served if their parents would "King Solomonize" the Lombardi trophy, splitting it in half and recognizing the most important part of any parenting time discussion: the children (fans).
Rob Hahn, the president of Reform Family Law Now, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.