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States considering shared parenting in child custody cases

Fathers' rights organizations and others interested in the well-being of children following the divorce or separation of their parents are seeking to change child custody laws in California and throughout the country. Shared-parenting advocates seek to counter the custody bias that tends to favor mothers, and legislation related to creating more equal custody arrangements is under consideration in nearly 20 states.

The proposed legislation would change state laws governing which parent in a divorce or separation receives legal custody. For example, Maine's legislature is considering bills requiring judges to consider the value of both parents' involvement in their child's life post-divorce. A 50/50 parenting bill has been introduced in the legislatures of at least two states, Colorado and Texas. In Colorado, the bill proposes to recognize parental rights as fundamental rights, and in Texas, the bill proposes establishing a 50/50 custody arrangement as the presumed order in custody cases.

These shared-parenting arrangements deviate from the long-standing norm, based on gender stereotypes, that mothers are the preferred custodial parent. Census data indicates that mothers are the custodial parent in about 83 percent of cases. A report issued by Nebraska courts indicated that child custody awards from 2002 to 2012 resulted in noncustodial fathers seeing their children an average of only 5.5 days each month in 72 percent of the cases.

Since child custody laws are subject to change and navigating the various statutes can be challenging, parents who are divorcing or separating are recommended to seek the advice of legal counsel before agreeing to any custody issues. An attorney might provide assistance to a parent in negotiating an agreement that is in the best interests of the child and then present it to the court for approval.

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