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States pushing for shift toward joint child custody after divorce

In many divorce cases, child custody is often the most contentious and emotionally charged issue. Custody decisions are supposed to be guided by the best interests of the children. But what does that mean practically? And what lengths should parents be willing to go to in order to make the situation easier on their kids?

These are tough questions, and the answers may be different for each family. Courts in a growing number of states are beginning to shift child custody practices from a single-parent model to one that tries to keep both parents involved when possible. While this approach is often beneficial for children, it is understandably frustrating for parents who have just spent considerable time and money divorcing one another.

Statistically speaking, awarding primary or sole custody to mothers is still the norm. That being said, fathers tend to be much more active caregivers than they were half a century ago. As such, courts are granting sole custody to an increasing number of single dads.

But legislators in several states are attempting to pass laws that significantly change the approach to child custody rulings. Specifically, they want courts to start the process with the presumption of shared custody (except in cases where one parent is unfit due to a history of violence, drug/alcohol abuse or other issues).

The idea of shared custody can be a difficult one for ex-spouses who have a hard time getting along with one another. Coordinating custody schedules means continuing to communicate with an ex-husband or ex-wife on a regular basis. Depending on the situation, joint custody can also limit major life decisions, such as one parent’s ability to relocate to another city or state.

Because each family is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to awarding child custody. But when divorcing spouses are able to set aside their differences just enough to focus on what their children need, they may stand a better chance of coming up with a custody plan that works for the entire family.

Source: National Public Radio, "Push To Change Custody Laws: What's Best For Kids?" Jennifer Ludden, Feb. 26, 2014

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