Opinion: Family courts are failing minority children

Children attend a Head Start preschool graduation ceremony in 2019.

Children attend a Head Start preschool graduation ceremony in 2019.

Tyler Sizemore, Staff Photographer / Hearst Connecticut Media

Many Black, Latino and immigrant children grow up in single-parent homes with limited contact with their other parent. In Connecticut cities with substantial minority populations, such as Hartford, New Haven, New London and Willimantic, single-parent households constitute more than half of all households, while it is more than 45 percent in Bridgeport, New Britain and Waterbury. What are we doing to help these children? Not enough, and in fact, our family courts are harming them.

Children need both their mother and father. Scientific research clearly shows that children are best off if they live and spend equal time with both parents after divorce or separation. That leads to better physical health, superior mental health, stronger social relationships with family and friends, and less substance abuse. This is also true in high-conflict divorces and after adjusting for socioeconomic factors. If we want minority children to succeed in life, with less poverty, crime and domestic abuse; and instead build healthy relationships and families for future generations, we should ensure their right to both their mother and their father.

It is therefore exciting that members of the Connecticut Legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus are proposing legislation on this topic. A bill by Rep. Geraldo Reyes from Waterbury promotes children’s right to equal parenting time” with two loving parents after divorce or separation. Reps. Minnie Gonzalez from Hartford, Robyn Porter from Hamden/New Haven and Juan Candelaria from New Haven are proposing that there shall be a rebuttal presumption that joint custody and equal shared parenting time is in the best interest of the child” but that “such presumption may be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence.” The last section ensures that children do not end up with an abusive or neglectful parent, but they are a small minority. If a child is safe with a parent every other weekend, they are also safe with them on weekdays.

Divorce court is costly for both parents and taxpayers. While high-earning parents can pay lawyers to help obtain 50/50 custody for their children, that is harder for low and middle-income parents. They lack resources to fight family court lawyers arguing for traditional sole physical custody or other crazy things like 6:15 a.m. exchange times or that children should not spend Halloween and other American holidays with their immigrant parents. A rebuttal presumption of shared parenting will eliminate the high legal costs. Instead of sole custody and weekend visitation, more minority children could live with both their loving mother and their loving father.

If passed, these bills will do more for inner-city minority children than any other bill or program, at no cost to taxpayers. As the first such bill passed in a blue state, it would also be historic. This should be a nonpartisan issue. We call on all legislators who care for the future of black and Latino children to co-sponsor and vote for these bills to give minority children some of the equity that has been promised to them for decades.

Sean Allen is a professional firefighter, Martin Kulldorff is a Harvard professor of medicine (on leave), and Juliana Ribeiro is family specialist. All three are Connecticut parents of minority children and active in the Connecticut chapter of the National Parents Organization .