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Shared custody laws being considered

Courts have traditionally awarded primary custody, in most cases, to mothers because of a lingering belief that mothers are better caregivers. Based in part on the work of fathers' rights groups, however, at least 20 states considered new laws this year that encourage shared custody. Some of these bills also designate this custody as the legal premise for custody decisions that an objecting parent would have to contest.

Fathers' rights advocates argued that men feel separated from their children but still must pay costly support obligations. Proponents and lawmakers have supported these measures to promote gender equality.

Shared parenting provides flexibility to parents. Fathers can decide to be stay-at-home-parents while mothers may choose to return to work under these arrangements.

Children benefit with their father's involvement, according to a vast body of social-science research. They are more inclined to have greater self-esteem and better grades. Some experts, however, say that these figures may not be accurate because shared custody arrangements likely have parents who get along and cooperate.

Advocates also refer to other research that shows negative outcomes for children of one-parent families. These include greater risk of incarceration or dropping out of school. However, many experts argue that these statistics could be misleading because parents who never marry are more likely to have lower incomes which also leads to bad outcomes for families.

Some women's rights groups, legal associations and other critics of shared custody claim that these laws will remove important protections against abusive or controlling spouses and restrict a judge's discretion to determine the best interests of the child. They also argue that these new laws are unnecessary because 90 percent of parents agree to shared custody.

Other experts recommend alternative resolution for custody matters such as mediation and parenting plans. These plans contain details on each parent's responsibility and duties for their children. This has led to more equitable parenting time.

A qualified lawyer can assist a parent in custody matters in court, settlement negotiations or in mediation. They can help assure that the best interests of the child are pursued.

Source: The Washington Post, "More than 20 states in 2017 considered laws to promote shared custody of children after divorce," By Michael Alison Chandler, Dec. 11, 2017

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