February 8, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The movement for shared parenting in New Zealand is in its infancy.  Spearheading that movement is attorney Loren Portnow who recently penned an op-ed for the New Zealand Herald, the country’s largest newspaper, promoting a rebuttable presumption of equal parenting.  Unfortunately, the op-ed is inaccessible behind a paywall.

Back in 2014, family law in New Zealand underwent a limited reform.  Now the Ministry of Justice is reviewing those reforms and its report on them is due in May.  Portnow rightly points out that the review provides the government an opportunity to remake Kiwi law to provide for a rebuttable presumption of equal parenting.  Part of his argument involves the fact that the wave for shared parenting is rolling in the U.S. and cites, among other things, Kentucky’s recent success.

But there are other reasons that are unique to New Zealand.  For example, there are 63 courts in the country hearing family law matters that are expected to hear 61,000 cases per year.  When holidays and weekends are counted, that adds up to an average of 4.4 cases per court per day.  Make sense?

Plus, Portnow adds that, as of May last year, there was an 8,000-case backlog in the courts of Care of Children Act cases.  Portnow cogently wonders just how courts are supposed to act in the best interests of every child with such daunting caseloads.  Clearly, they do no such thing.  We’re forever told by those who oppose children having meaningful relationships with their fathers following divorce that judges decide custody matters carefully and on a case-by-case basis.  That conjures up images of judges meticulously reviewing large masses of evidence and thinking deeply about the circumstances of each case.

Nonsense.  Their primary goal is to move their dockets so the backlog of cases doesn’t grow even larger.  They do that by resort to pro-maternal custody as their default arrangement.  Study after study in the U.S. demonstrates that family law cases are about as individualized as frozen peas.

Portnow’s obvious point is that, with an equal parenting presumption, litigation would decrease, judges’ dockets would move more quickly and they’d have more time to devote to those rare contentious cases that truly need their attention.  What a concept.

Plus, “it is estimated that 10-20% of parenting dispute cases involve children who are suffering emotional abuse in the form of parental alienation.”  Those are cases that notoriously absorb far more judicial time and court resources than any others.  A presumption of equal parenting would go a long way toward eliminating parental alienation.  Why?  Parental alienation is, above all, an opportunistic phenomenon.  The parent who has the child most or all of the time has the opportunity to alienate the child because (a) he/she has the time to distort the child’s mind and perceptions of the other parent and (b) the other parent has little or no opportunity to change those perceptions.

A week-on/week-off schedule would make parental alienation close to impossible.  Whatever toxic seeds the would-be alienator could plant in the child’s mind about the other parent would, come the following week, be nipped in the bud.  The targeted parent would be revealed to be not the ogre claimed by the alienator, the child would see the truth and the alienation would fail to take root.

By reducing parental alienation of children, an equal parenting law would not only improve children’s welfare, but also reduce the dysfunction of everyday society that has to accommodate the bad behavior of alienated children and the adults they become.

We’ll see what the Ministry of Justice says in its report this coming May.  In the meantime, the movement for shared parenting in New Zealand is struggling to achieve lift-off.  Loren Portnow is doing his part to make that happen.

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