There has been a strong push in many states during the first half of 2015 to implement more balanced child custody laws that would lead to more equal parenting time after divorce.
The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted this movement and noted that nearly 20 states are considering measures that would change laws that govern which parent receives legal custody of a child following divorce or separation.
Most of the proposals encourage judges to adopt custody schedules that give parents the maximum amount of parenting time possible with their kids. Some, like New York and Washington state, go a step further and require judges to grant equal parenting time unless there is proof that such an arrangement is not in the child’s best interest.
Here is a look at just a few bills that have either passed or are being considered across the country.
- Utah passed HB35 in March and the law will go into effect May 19. The law will increase the amount of weekly parenting time noncustodial parents receive and increases the parent-time schedule from 80 overnights to 145. To qualify for the optimal schedule, the noncustodial parent must meet the following criteria: 1. demonstrate that they’ve been actively involved in the child’s life. 2. Communicate effectively regarding the child, and 3. any other factors the court considers relevant.
- Two bills are being considered in Maine that would require judges to consider the value of having both parents involved in their children’s lives following divorce.
- A bill was proposed in Nebraska that would maximize the time each parent gets with their children if they are unable to agree on a parenting plan. Judges could determine the exact split, but the minimum amount of time either parent could have would be 35 percent.
- In March, the Colorado senate introduced a 50/50 parenting bill that would recognize parental rights as fundamental rights. The measure would require courts to explain in writing why a custody order that “does not order substantially equal parenting time between the parties” is in the child’s best interests.
- A 50/50 custody bill is making its way through the Texas legislature that would give parents equal custody of their children following a divorce.
While this progress is encouraging, unfortunately there is much ground to make up. Last year, the National Parents Organization Shared Parenting Report Card revealed that, nationwide, the custody laws in the U.S. do a poor job or promoting shared parenting.
These developments coincide with the publication of a study in Sweden that shows the benefits of shared parenting. Last month, researchers found that children that spend time living with both separated parents are less stressed than those that live with just one.
In the study, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, researchers examined national data from nearly 150,000 12- and 15-year-old students in either 6th or 9th grade and studied their psychosomatic health problems, including sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches and stomachaches, feeling tense, sad or dizzy. They found that kids living with both parents reported significantly fewer problems than children in sole-custody arrangements.
“We think that having everyday contact with both parents seems to be more important, in terms of stress, than living in two different homes,” said Malin Bergström, PhD, researcher at the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden. “It may be difficult to keep up on engaged parenting if you only see your child every second weekend.”
Of course, there already exists a plethora of research regarding the benefits of shared parenting. Statistically, children of divorce fare significantly better when they spend parenting time with both parents. Children who regularly do this have fewer injuries, less asthma, less headaches, and less sleep defects. On the other hand, children from single-parent homes have higher high school dropout rates, higher rates of suicide, and report more problems relating to their peers.
Shared-parenting arrangements can also reduce conflict between divorced spouses.
“Sometimes [50/50 custody agreements] work simply because nobody has the upper hand,” said Cordell & Cordell Regional Partner Kelly Burris, who was recently interviewed by WOAI NBC 4 in San Antonio about the Texas 50/50 custody bill. “So you have both parents having equal control of what’s going on with the kids and the time spent with the kids, and so nobody has that power to control what’s going on in the other person’s family.”
While noncustodial parents might still be fighting an uphill battle, these measures appear to be steps in a positive direction as lawmakers and father’s rights advocates continue working to level the custody playing field.