Our country has seen more than one reversal over our history of which parent traditionally gets custody preference after a divorce. In the early years of our country, it was men. Beginning in the 19th century, women became the primary caregivers after a divorce. In recent years, there's been an increasing trend toward shared parenting and custody decisions based on the "best interests of the child" rather than the gender of the parent.
The issue continues to be a contentious and emotional one. Early this month, as our readers know, North Dakota voters roundly defeated the "Parental Rights Initiative" that would have required courts to give equal time to both parents. Minnesota's governor vetoed a similar measure in 2012.
These rejections of legally-mandated "equal time" do not mean that shared parenting is a bad thing. Shared parenting agreements have become more common in recent years with the realization that in most circumstances, children of divorce fare better when both parents maintain a significant presence in their lives. Terms like "parenting time" and "decision making" are replacing terms involving "custody" in these cases.
As one law professor notes in discussing why he supports the outcome of the North Dakota initiative, a 50/50 division of parenting time should not be legally mandated. Further, he argues that such a legally-enforceable division is based on the parents' best interests rather than those of their children.
An alternative to a mandated equal-time arrangement, and one that many states are embracing, is the requirement of a "parenting plan." These can be worked out by the parents with the help of their attorneys, through a mediator or on their own. These plans provide structure, but allow for changes as children get older and/or as changes occur in the lives of all of those involved.
The law professor contends that these plans are better for children than rigid, legally-mandated division of parenting and that they help reduce the chances of contentious child custody battles that can be damaging to children already coping with a fractured family. They help place the focus on "sharing the parenting rather than dividing the child."
North Dakota family law attorneys can help their clients work out custody arrangements that will be in the best interests of the child. Whether that is a shared parenting or sole custody situation will depend upon the individuals involved, both children and adults, and the unique dynamics of the family.
Source: The Washington Post, "No, children should not spend equal time with their divorced parents" J. Herbie DiFonzo, Nov. 14, 2014