With the release of National Parents Organization’s 2019 Shared Parenting Report Card, it remains clear that there is still much work to do in West Virginia.

Many states are moving closer to shared parenting as the norm in family courts. However, West Virginia lags behind, receiving a grade of C-.

There is effort to improve our family court system, but most changes are met with resistance. Some improvements include legislation pertaining to false allegations of abuse, as well as a change in parental responsibilities pertaining to custody percentages.

According to several professional studies, shared equal custody benefits children greatly after a separation or divorce. Our children deserve to have as much meaningful time and contact with both their parents before, during and after a separation regardless of the attitude of the parents.

The best protection for the children in West Virginia would be new legislation providing equal time with both parents in temporary and final court orders, assuming there is no proof of a history of abuse.

Proof is important. We wouldn’t send someone to prison for bank robbery just because they were accused. They are entitled to due process, which includes a trial. If found guilty, they pay the price for their crime.

Family court doesn't have to meet the same burden of proof, however. Children are often removed from a parent’s life over a false accusation.

All children need protection from all adults in their lives whether it be parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches or their medical providers.

There is an appetite for change at the state level. Delegate Chris Phillips (R), representing the 47th District, said in a statement, “The continued erosion of the family unit in America and West Virginia lies at the heart of most of the societal problems we face today. Children raised without both parents actively involved in their lives are at higher risk for many negative life outcomes. We must work together in West Virginia to give every child a chance at a happy, healthy, productive life with a support system from their entire family.”

Added Delegate Dianna Graves (R), representing the 38th district: “Parental divorce can be a massively disruptive event in a child’s life. I would like to suggest that what is in the best interest of the child is to have the love, support and presence of both fit parents in that child’s life. What came before the divorce will inevitably be different than what comes after — but divorcing a child from the love and presence of either parent will only increase the child’s sense of calamitous change. WV should begin every discussion of what is in the best interest of the child by presuming that both fit parents should continue to be parents, in every sense of that word — sharing custody, sharing responsibilities, caring for and raising their child to the best of their ability. Carving out one parent’s ability to interact with the child they co-created based on what life looked like before a divorce that will completely change the landscape of everything that comes after is not only unfair, it reduces a child’s ability to experience fully the love of a parent. The bar for allowing that to happen should be very, very high — not our default position as a society.”

It gives me hope that our legislators are beginning to recognize and fix some of these issues that have been plaguing our state for so long. I encourage every reader to reach out to as many state delegates and senators as possible.

Encourage them to support family court reform that includes joint and equal custody following a divorce or separation, barring cases of abuse.

The current laws have existed for decades and come from a time when most fathers worked, and mothers were stay at home caretakers. Times have changed, and that situation is more of an exception than a rule.

West Virginia is known as a 50/50 state because according to state law, all marital assets and property are to be split evenly. You are entitled to half of the car, house, furniture and bank account — but no guarantee to see your children.

It is time for West Virginia to put our children first and give them the best chance for a brighter future and move us from a C- to an A+.

Chad J. Phillips is chair for the West Virginia affiliate of National Parents Organization.

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