It's Father's Day once again, but Kenneth Paschal will not be spending it with his daughter, for the third year in a row, even though nothing would make him happier than to see his 9-year-old daughter on this day. Kenneth is like many non-custodial parents, a loving father who wants to spend time with his child, but court orders keep him from spending much time with his own child. He is fighting to change that reality.
Kenneth Paschal is a US Army Retired First Sergeant and the Director of Governmental Affairs for ALFRA, the Alabama Family Rights Association, an organization working toward changing custody laws so that children, who are often caught in the middle, can have access to both parents, as long as there are not issues involving abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
On any given day during the legislative session, Sgt. Paschal may be seen at the Capitol building taking with lawmakers about this issue that is so close to his heart. Other times, he travels around the state talking with various groups and organizations, advocating for children, who "need both parents even after divorce."
According to Psychiatrist Richard Gardner in Psychology Today, "parental alienation syndrome" often occurs in custody disputes, where one parent undermines the relationship of the child or children with the other parent by talking negatively, and even forcing the child to take sides.
Current custody practices and laws in many states, not just Alabama, contribute to that alienation. Often the non-custodial parent is assigned visitation for two weekends a month and some holidays. Parents like Paschal say that children need more time than that.
According to a consensus report by Richard A. Warshak, many child experts agree that shared parenting may be a better option for helping children to form secure attachment relationships with both parents, creating a healthier childhood.
The ideal situation is for children to have equal access to their mother and father. Obviously, there are situations where that is not the best arrangement, as in cases of abuse. Sgt. Paschal is quick to point out that everything he promotes assumes "fit" parents.
A recent press release from ALFRA states:
"Eighty-five percent (85%) of non-custodial parents are fathers. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of non-custodial fathers are not deadbeats or are unfit parents. They do not live life that are often associated with the stigmas of being a noncustodial parent. These fathers desire to be an active part in their child's life rather than a parent who is granted 'visitation,' and regarded as nothing more than a visitor or a paycheck. Certainly there are parents, both fathers and mothers, who abdicate or completely avoid and abandon their responsibilities to their children. However, those parents are not one of the larger causes of single-parent homes. The number one cause of fatherless homes in Alabama is court ordered by an Alabama judge.When family courts restrict the non-custodial parent, most often the father, to this limited status, that parent "often experience(s) profound feelings of loss and frustration when his relationship with his child(ren) is reduced to a minimum or is completely diminished."
" These fathers are deprived of their constitutional rights to be as equally involved in their child's life as the custodial parent."
That the child suffers as well from primarily only having one parent around, or by being used as a pawn in the middle of parental hostility, has been borne out by years of experience and research. When one parent is missing, it is not uncommon for the child to experience security and identity issues.
The court system plays a significant role in this damage to children, not only from rulings which tend to greatly favor one parent over the other, but also by failing to enforce existing visitation rulings. Paschal maintains that courts and lawmakers need to take visitation interference as seriously as they do failure to pay child support.
It sometimes seems that the only time that parental access is backed up by the system is when an abusive parent demands access to the child. That needs to change.
Children need both parents. Sometimes that is not possible due to death or harmful situations. But when a child has two parents who love him or her, without harming the other parent, it is reasonable that the child should be able to expect that those parents, the courts, the legislature, and everyone around them can work together to secure the best interests of the child.
There are so many negative stories of abusive or neglectful parents who don't care to spend time with their children, or who yank their hearts around with a chain of broken promises. When a child is fortunate enough to have two parents who love him or her, shouldn't he have the right to have a relationship with both of them?
Even if a child's parents are divorced or were never married, doesn't that child have a right to celebrate both Mother's Day AND Father's Day?
[images via bing and Google images]