How shared parenting is changing child custody

In 2016, the Florida legislature voted in favor of a bill that would make shared parenting the default in child custody cases. However, the governor vetoed the bill. A number of states are moving toward encouraging shared parenting although legislating it remains somewhat controversial. 

The movement toward legislation is led by fathers' rights movements. For many years, child custody decisions were made using the "tender years doctrine" that assumed women were better caregivers than men. When the courts shifted to a system based on the best interests of the children, mothers still tended to get custody while fathers often become only part-time parents. One meta-analysis of international studies found that children benefit from shared parenting behaviorally, emotionally and physically.

Opponents, including some legal organizations and women's rights groups, say that these studies look at situations in which the parents get along, so there would probably be shared parenting with or without legislation. They argue that legislation might strip away a mother's protection from an abusive or controlling ex-spouse and could reduce the likelihood that women get child support, which can be an important income equalizer. Some also argue that moving toward more cooperative approaches in divorce, including mediation and collaboration, is a better solution. Like several other states, Florida has replaced the terms "custody" and "visitation" with "parenting plan" to help further this aim.

Parents can work on conflict resolution skills during this time for more effective coparenting after the divorce. They can also address issues in the parenting plan that might arise in the future. These types of issues might range from who is responsible for certain extracurricular activities to how vacations will be planned and more. A lawyer may be able to help divorcing spouses agree on a parenting plan that describes how to deal with any conflict that may arise after divorce.

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