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Thursday, April 25, 2019 12:10 am

What Michelle O doesn’t know about divorced dads

 When the most admired woman in America last week compared Donald Trump’s presidency to spending the weekend with a fun-loving irresponsible divorced dad, she probably didn’t intend to disparage divorced and single dads.  Unfortunately, she did.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama, speaking in London to promote her new book, Becoming, said, “Sometimes you spend weekends with divorced dad.  That feels good, but then you get sick.  That’s what America is going through.  We’re kind of living with divorced dad.”

As a lawyer who has represented many divorced and single dads, I have seen this stereotype play out in both our legal system and society in general.  “The system assumes that fathers can earn money, but can’t be responsible parents.  This assumption is not based on fact,” said Chicago fathers’ rights attorney Jeffery Leving, author of Fathers’ Rights and chairman of the Illinois Council On Responsible Fatherhood.

“I think it’s getting better over time, but traditionally, moms are seen as more parental, and that’s not necessarily true,” said Illinois State University Professor Aimee Miller-Ott, commenting on a recent study.  The 2018 study showed Illinois ranks 47th of the 50 states for the amount of time dads get to spend with their kids.  Illinois children of split parents spend an average of 23.1 percent of their time each year with their dad, according to the study by Custody X Change, a Utah-based company that sells software to help separated parents divide custody.  The legislature’s Family Law Study Committee recommended a minimum of 35 percent.  

There’s no question that kids of divorced and otherwise split parents spending more time with their dads leads to much better outcomes.  Preschoolers with actively involved fathers have stronger verbal skills.  Children with actively involved dads display less behavior problems in school.  Girls with strong relationships with their fathers do better in mathematics.  Boys with actively involved dads tend to get better grades and perform better on achievement tests.   

On the other hand, when dads are not involved in their children’s lives, bad things happen.  Three out of four teen suicides occur in single-parent families.  Sixty percent of rapists are from fatherless households.  Seventy percent of those incarcerated in juvenile facilities grew up without dads.  Children without involved dads are 11 times more likely to exhibit violent behavior.  Eighty percent of teens in psychiatric wards grew up without dads.  

Dads nationally and in Springfield are now actively fighting for their rights to spend more time with their children.  In Springfield Jesse West established Dads Can Too, with an active Facebook page.  Leving, the Chicago fathers’ rights lawyer, is fighting for an Equal Time Shared Parenting law, creating a rebuttable presumption that equal parenting time is in the best interest of the child.

Equal parenting time with both parents would be the starting point, but could be disproved with evidence that such was not in the best interest of the child. Rep.LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, championed this last session and in the current one, but his HB 185 remains stuck in committee

The Missouri Equal Time Shared Parenting bill has fared better, recently passing the Missouri House 119-30.  It is set to be heard this week before a Missouri Senate committee.  Enactment of Missouri HB 229 could help Rep. Ford pass his bill in Illinois.

After more than 30 years, Illinois finally passed the Equal Rights Amendment last year.  It is now time for the Illinois legislature to recognize the equal rights of fathers and children by passing the Equal Time Shared Parenting bill.

Further information is available at afesp.com, dadsrights.com and the Dads Can Too Facebook page.

Sam Cahnman is a Springfield lawyer who represents fathers.  He is a former member of the Illinois Council On Responsible Fatherhood, and can be reached at samcahnman@yahoo.com or 217-528-0200.

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