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Advocates for shared parenting say laws need updating

Even though many parents agree on "joint" or "shared" custody of their children, actual 50-50 split custody is not the norm in California. Most often, children spend a significant amount of time with both parents in joint custody arrangements but the "custodial" parent has the children for more time than the "non-custodial" parent.

However, some advocates for shared parenting are trying to change that. They say children do best when they are raised by both parents and they are encouraging state lawmakers to change custody laws to favor custody arrangements in which the parents share equal custody.

Several states have commissioned research panels to investigate the potential risks and benefits of shared-parenting laws, and a few states have actually introduced bills on the issue.

But opponents say strictly enforcing 50-50 custody could be dangerous, and they stress that family court judges need flexibility in child custody cases.

They say even though it is widely accepted that single-parent custody would be appropriate in cases with a history of domestic violence or substance abuse, it would be hard to prove that these problems exist without documentation.

On the other hand, the founder of a group that promotes shared parenting pointed out that gender roles in society have changed, and now polls show that a majority of Americans support equally shared parenting time.

He said that while equal parenting might not work for every family, it would be best if parents didn't have to fight in court for the coveted role of "custodial" parent. This causes bitterness, he said, which is harmful to the children and the parents.

In California, child custody decisions can be made by a judge in court or by the parents through mediation. Although not the norm, parents in California can already agree to share custody of their children 50-50 on their own.

The important thing is that each family finds a custody arrangement that works for them.

Source: USA TODAY, "Shared parenting could be new divorce outcome," Jonathan Ellis, Jan. 27, 2014

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