Part Two of Three
Arizona is similar to many states in that when a couple divorces, the mother is usually made the primary caregiver. One divorced Arizona father, Mike Espinoza, is fighting to change this practice.
For decades, even though mental-health experts, lawyers and judges agreed a father should play a major role in his child’s life, the father, in normal situations, was not given the time to do so. Having the child stay in the same home with one parent, one set of rules and not moving that child from household to household was the norm. According to Arizona State University psychology professor Bill Fabricius, “if a dad showed up every once in awhile, and paid child support, that’s all you needed him for.”
This practice is now beginning to change, and Arizona is one of those states initiating the change. According to Fabricius, in the past, most of the research on children of divorced parents focused on the mother’s perspective of not only how the children doing, but how her ex was was doing as well. Fabricius felt that no one was actually finding out the child’s perspective in the situation.
To remedy this, Fabricius conducted a study during the 2005-2006 school year by interviewing more than 1,000 college students, seeking their perspective on both divorce and their relationship with both parents. The results of this study were contrary to what literature had been saying in that most students felt the best arrangement for children after a divorce was to spend equal time with both parents.
Another psychologist, Arnold Shienvold, confirmed this research that shows children adjust better if they have quality relationships with both parents. This is true as long as both parents have adequate parenting skills and don’t have substance abuse, domestic violence or mental-health issues. He stated that “mothers tend to be more on a comfort, nurturing continuum and do more rule-setting, while dads tend to be more playful and engaging.” Shienvold added that a child needs both of the above qualities to socially adapt and be well adjusted.
Fabricius shared his research with lawmakers in other states and worked with Arizona’s State Legislature’s Domestic Relations Committee to update custody laws. Mike Espinoza joined this effort in 2010 when the divorce courts gave him limited access to his sons. Espinoza found an ally in his effort to have laws changed when he walked into the office of state Senator Sylvia Allen of Snowflake and told her his story.
To be continued.