Responding to criticisms that child custody laws nationwide are prejudicial to the custodial rights of fathers, about 20 state legislatures are considering bills that would institutionalize post-divorce custodial parity between two suitable parents, effectively giving each parent equal time with their children.
The legislative groundswell in favor of evenly allocating time between parents is intended to address a broad perception that one parent – and more often than not fathers – are likely to have their parental rights minimized in a legal process that sets about determining the “best interests” of children in a contentious race to criticize the other parent’s parenting skills.
Some of the bills pending in state assemblies would take the extra step of mandating that family court judges award equal time to each parent absent a showing that such a schedule wouldn’t be in a minor child’s best interest. This would essentially flip the burden of proof to a parent who opposed the imposition of an equal time arrangement.
Proponents of the pending bills say that leaving the current adversarial system intact does little more than unevenly parcel out custodial time after long, expensive, and often demeaning custody proceedings. They rely on studies which show that minor children are best served when they have meaningful relationships with both parents.
Opponents of the pending bills are reluctant to take discretion away from judges – judges who are inevitably closest to the facts surrounding each parent-child relationship which comes before them. Opponents also believe that mandatory custodial models will often serve to empower abusive men who will use their perceived custodial “power” as a weapon against their former spouse. Finally, opponents question the wisdom of forcing 50/50 custodial models on many high conflict parents who are innately incapable of effective joint parenting in any event.