This week marked the release of the 2019 Shared Parenting Report Card issued by the National Parents Organization. The grading serves as a national study to provide a comprehensive ranking of the states on their child custody statutes, assessing them primarily on the degree to which they promote shared parenting after divorce or separation.
This study was motivated by the tremendous impact our nation’s family courts have on children whose parents are divorced or separated, and by recent consensus statements by leading child development research organizations that confirm children thrive with shared parenting following separation or divorce. A research team evaluated the child custody statutes of each state and determined a shared parenting grade for each, based on existing statutes.
Kansas earned a C- according to the NPO research.
Garrett Tacha, who lives in western Kansas, recently celebrated a ruling in his county courthouse which gave him equal custody time with his children. Tears of joy began to stream down his face as he walked out of the courtroom. His reaction was understandable considering he had to wait nearly three years after his divorce and pay over $30,000 in attorney fees in order to have meaningful time with his children. Tacha would later say, “I don’t understand why I had to spend thousands of dollars to prove that I am a fit and loving parent.”
If Tacha is confused by our family courts, he’s not the only one. His case serves as perfect example of why legislative reform is needed to help fix our courts.
Tacha was a fit parent without a criminal record, had never committed a violent crime in his life but was only allowed to see his children 15 hours a week by the judge. “The outcome of the court was awful. I couldn’t believe it. My heart was in pieces after that court date,” he said.
Tacha was told by those in the court system he needed to spend the next year gathering evidence, which showed he was a good dad and continue to pay lawyer fees. Eventually, his case was assigned to a mediator. Judges routinely hand custody cases over to a third party to hear and decide the facts of the case. The mediator ultimately decides which parent gets custody and how much time to spend with the children. The judge can make changes but rarely do. It’s alarming to many parents due to the large number of cases judges send to mediators.
“It’s kind of scary because the person who will ultimately decide my involvement with my own children isn’t even at these meetings. How can a judge really know what is in my child’s best interest if they aren’t there?” Tacha said.
Another year would pass before the next court date was set to change the custody arrangement. While waiting, Tacha took co-parenting classes recommended by the mediator. He took part in drug and alcohol evaluations even though he didn’t have a substance abuse problem. His big break came days before the court date when his ex-wife’s attorney agreed to 50-50 shared custody. Two days later, the judge signed the agreement.
“I’m very thankful I’m able to see my children because I know many parents lack the financial resources to get time with their kids,” he said. “I firmly believe Kansas needs to reform this system, but I’m very thankful right now. I love my kids so much.”
Will Mitchell is the chairman for the Kansas affiliate of National Parents Organization.