MensRights.com: You are one of the leading advocates for shared parenting. So let’s talk about what you have done to promote shared parenting within Washington?
Jim Kastama: I was elected to the Washington State legislature in 1996 and in fact this was the driving issue for me to run for office. I had personally experienced a divorce and had gone through the proceedings. I had been deemed an excellent father. Therefore, I was "awarded" every other weekend and an evening a week with my kids. I just found that, quite frankly, unbelievable.
So, I went to the legislature and advocated for shared parenting. Every year, I have run a piece of legislation that has tried to put in place a rebuttable presumption for shared parenting.
The way we defined it, in the proposals that I put forward, is shared parenting is at least one-third residential time with one parent. Again, that‘s at least one-third.
So at least you’re assured of what most psychologists agree is the minimum time necessary to maintain that strong, nurturing bond between parent and child. So I push for that legislation and it’s taken a variety of forms. One has been the one-third time; others have been just a rebuttable presumption for shared parenting and leaving it to the discretion of the court. I have tried a lot of variations.
MensRights.com: I wanted to ask you about these roadblocks you’re running into from getting these bills passed. I just seems so incredible to many of the divorced dads out there watching that people are opposed to them having just as equal of a right to see their children as the mother of their children. It just seems inherently unfair to fathers. So what is the opposition’s viewpoint on this? Why is there such a problem getting shared parenting legislation passed?
Jim Kastama: I think there are many factors. I think on the one hand you have people that sincerely believe that children, because of stability, should be with one parent the majority of the time and the other parent just on weekends or very infrequently.
Maybe they do like to say it’s frequent but the reality is every other weekend is not frequent. I think there’s that argument to be made.
I think what they mistake in that argument is they view physical stability as being more important than emotional stability. I think what we know, and what most psychologists know, is that you need that other parent in your life to provide emotional stability.
For a long-term relationship, having that connection at an early age is important. I’ve known some people who have been kept from their father at a very young age, and when they got older, they tried to reconnect with their father but there was just something missing there. Too much time had gone by and they had missed those very key bonding years. So I think the system really misses out on that.
Another reason is the stereotype of the man—a holdover from the 1950’s. It’s the idea that the father is the breadwinner. He’s the one who provides the income and the mother is the nurturer. At that time, that’s kind of how things were set up and it’s a holdover from that.
In other words, the mother as the primary caregiver is the important parent and the father doesn’t see the child that often anyways so we’ll just have him there every other weekend. It’s a very stereotypical, old model that, frankly, I think is very inappropriate.
Here is the problem: you have a lot of people - I would consider to be from the very far left - who look upon this issue is a gender issue between men and women. Not a child’s issue but a gender issue.
The chair of the judiciary committee once told me that family law is women’s law, which I was really taken aback by. So you have that idea that it’s a gender dispute.
Then you combine that with what I would say on the far right spectrum is the old traditional idea that the man is the breadwinner. Again, I don’t mean to be stereotypical as far as political perspective, but that’s how I see it playing out.
Those of us in the middle realize there has to be balance—that both parents are equally valid.
A lot of fathers who go through this, when they’re through with this, when they’re done with the dispute, the last thing they want to do is get back into it and re-explore all of the emotional heartache and all the troubles they went through. So getting people to be activated in this is not as easy as you’d think.
I would also say the third thing is that the legal system is really set up right now for this. There’s a huge presumption in the system for every other weekend, which is a very restrictive visitation arrangement. When you go to your attorney, the attorney will say, "Well, you can try and ask for more but this is what you’re likely to get. This is what everyone else gets."
When you look at the expense of all of that, most people just say "OK." Rather than the huge expense they’re going to pay, they’ll go ahead and acquiesce to this presumption that’s already out there.
A judge who was very supportive of me told the governor of Washington, "The only way you can get more than every other weekend in Washington State is you have to mount a legal battle."
At that time the judge said a minimum of $25,000 and you can double that now easily. How many people have that kind of money, especially going through a divorce and fighting for visitation for their child? Those are three very strong elements that have made it very difficult to get this through.
MensRights.com: Let’s get into your partnership with Blue October. As mentioned, you got onstage at a rock concert where the crowd is a younger demographic and you gave a speech advocating for shared parenting. The reaction from the crowd seemed very supportive. Where you surprised by that reaction? What was it like being onstage?
Jim Kastama: I have been seeing the fact that 40% of all of our children grow up without father - in the African American community I believe it’s 70-73% - and I think that there have actually been articles written about this rage that a lot of young people have.
A lot of it, I think, is because maybe the generation before them has put so much of a focus on money being important, that money has taken center stage and not their relationships with their parents.
I guess what I was struck by at the Blue October concert was it’s great that finally someone out there realizes the pain this system has caused. Finally people out there, our youth, understand that they’ve been denied a relationship, and it wasn’t just because of what people told them - that someone didn’t care for them.
But there really is a system out there that has driven away fathers, one of the people that could’ve been there for them all along.
Watch Sen. Jim Kastama's interview with MensRights.com and DadsDivorce.com editor Matt Allen: