Shared-parenting laws gaining momentum

Shared equal custody or commonly-called shared-parenting laws are gaining momentum as more state lawmakers examine the pros and cons of children spending equal amounts of time with both divorced parents.

Advocates contend that children are better served when equal time is spent with both parents and oppose custody to one parent, except when there is a history of abuse or substance abuse. Opponents say that each case is unique and that a judge needs flexibility to determine what custody arrangement is in the best interest of each individual child in relationship to all circumstances.

Ned Holstein, founder of the National Parents Organization, a group that supports shared parenting, states three major reasons for the ever increasing interest in shared parenting laws:

  1. Gender roles have converged including an increase in men as caretakers;
  2. A majority of Americans support the concept of shared custody;
  3. The movement has been fueled by the courts giving more powers to the custodial parents, over the last 30 years, leaving non-custodial parents frustrated, deeply disenfranchised and the source of the current backlash.

According to Holstein, while shared parenting is not for all parties, state laws should reflect that both parents have equality in working out custodial arrangements. A system where one parent gets custody over another encourages bitterness. "A lot of divorces are messy simply because the stakes have been made so high," argues Holstein.

A sampling of equal custody activities reported by Jonathan Ellis, USA TODAY, in Shared Parenting could be New Divorce Outcome:

  • Some states, like Missouri, start with the presumption of a shared custody split except in cases of abuse or where it is not appropriate given the facts.
  • Tennessee tries to split custody even in messy divorces.
  • Lawmakers in Arkansas passed a law in 2013 that calls for the "approximate and reasonable equal division of time" of children between divorced parents.
  • In South Dakota, the state bar association has fought proposals that child custody should be split 50-50 between parents. However this year, the bar is sponsoring its own shared parenting bill, which would establish statewide guidelines for judges to consider when granting joint physical custody. "The best interest of the child or children trump the interests of the filing parent," said Tom Barnett, the executive director of the South Dakota Bar Association.
  • In Connecticut, the General Assembly created a task force to study family law issues, including whether the state should have a presumption in law that shared custody is in the best interest of children.
  • The Maryland General Assembly created a Commission on Child Custody Decision Making in 2013. The commission is scheduled to issue its final report by Dec. 1, 2014.
  • A bill that included alimony reform and shared parenting also passed in Florida last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.
  • Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a measure in 2012 that would have increased the minimum amount of custody from 25% to 35%.
  • Holstein is currently serving on a governor-appointed task force in Massachusetts studying family law issues. The group is expected to submit a proposed statute that will represent a "very substantial improvement" in that state's custody laws, he said.

The Powell tragedy is a story of a father, Josh Powell, the husband of a missing Utah woman, who lost legal custody of his sons, but while they were still at his home he ended his own life and theirs. This and other stories point to the fact that the ramifications of child custody are profound. The stakes are high. There is no easy answer when the lives of children are in the balance.

At Stange Law Firm, we adhere to the law of doing what is in the best interest of the child and make it a top priority. Our firm focuses exclusively on family law and upholds the highest of standards in cases of divorce, child custody, child support, paternity, and other domestic relations issues.

To meet with an attorney from one of our offices, call 855-805-0595 to schedule a confidential half-hour consultation, or visit us online.

Source: Shared parenting could be the new divorce outcome, by Jonathan Ellis, USA TODAY, January 27, 2014