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Shared parenting and child custody reform

California parents who are divorcing or embroiled in custody disputes may want to know about the national push for child custody reform. Several states, including Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota and Utah have already passed reform laws, and bills are pending in 20 other states.

Historically, courts tended to award primary physical custody to the mothers while giving fathers some degree of visitation rights. Women were also more likely to be granted primary legal custody as well. The states are now recognizing that children are better served when they have liberal contact with both parents and that both parents should be equally involved in assuming the responsibilities and decision-making for their children.

In states like Missouri, where reform bills are now the law, judges are forbidden from making child custody decisions based on the gender of the parents or on the age of the children. Multiple studies have demonstrated that children who have more meaningful relationships with both parents and who have more contact with each of them have better outcomes than do children who have little contact with one parent.

Judges are supposed to issue child custody and visitation orders according to the best interests of the child standard. It is an outdated idea that children should remain with their mothers. Shared parenting is better for children in most cases, and parents may want to keep that in mind no matter how emotional they might be as they attempt to negotiate a parenting plan with the assistance of their respective family law attorneys. If negotiations prove fruitless, an alternative to having a judge decide the matter could be mediation.

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