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One state considers controversial child custody reform

Family courts often struggle to stay abreast of social science research and current parenting trends. An example is found in the shifting approach toward shared child custody. One state is considering legislation that would ask the courts to begin all custody cases with the presumption that 50/50 shared custody is in the best interests of a child. The issue has raised a great deal of debate in Colorado and across the nation, with experts and parents chiming in on both sides of the matter.

The most recent debate is occurring in Florida. Those who support a 50/50 custody standard believe that the current approach often places fathers at a disadvantage. In recent decades, mothers receive the bulk of custody rights, with fathers receiving visitation with their kids on an every-other-weekend schedule. Of course, not all custody cases will share that outcome, but it has largely been the most common result. A truly shared custody outcome would allow both parents to play an active role in the lives of their children, and supporters point out that the proposed legislation gives courts 22 additional criteria to consider when making custody decisions.

Those who oppose the bill point out that custody matters are unique to each family, and assuming that shared custody is the best outcome does a disservice to the kids at the center of the issue. They also feel that the proposed legislation would leave many mothers in a position where they would be dragged back into court and have to hire an attorney to retain their custody rights. Opponents want to give family law judges full authority to decide each case on its own merits.

The proposed legislation has passed through the Florida Senate and is now making its way to the state's House. Continued debate is expected. Parents in Colorado may also follow the matter as changes in one state's child custody laws often influence similar outcomes in other jurisdictions.

Source: palmbeachpost.com, "Child custody changes sweep through Florida Senate, amid fears it will hurt families", John Kennedy, Feb. 23, 2016

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