A Florida bill that would give divorcing parents equal custody rights is on its way to Governor Rick Scott’s desk for approval. The new legislation would require judges to consider equal custody of children, while still allowing room for judicial discretion when equal parenting time is not in the child’s best interest.
Proponents of the bill believe taking custody concerns out of the mix will result in less fighting between the couples.
Senator Tom Lee, sponsor of the bill, stated an equal custody presumption would create “greater predictability and reliability” in custody cases. Further, Lee believes that because women are increasingly becoming the major breadwinners in families, a change in the law would “reduce litigation costs in the family law system.”
What Would the Bill Mean For Divorcing Parents?
For starters, the presumption would be equal custody rights. If divorcing parents cannot come to a custody agreement without the aid of the court, it means each parent would walk into that courtroom on equal ground.
It would be up to each party to present the facts of their case and then up to the judge to decide whether to deviate from the presumption of equal custody. Judges would have a list of 22 factors (20 of which are already in law) to be treated as guidelines when making a decision. The judge would have to put his or her reasoning in writing explaining why they are choosing to deviate from the presumption.
Sharing Custody Is a Positive
Too many times I’ve seen a parent just as capable as the other of parent get the shaft when it comes to custody. Although states are becoming more and more progressive towards father’s rights, it’s most often the father that gets gipped out of equal parenting time. Recent research suggests that this isn’t in the best interests of the child.
The Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health published a study that suggests children living with both parents are less stressed than children living with just one parent. The study examined national data of 150,000 12-15-year-old students and studied a number of health-related problems. The researchers looked at the children’s psychosomatic health problems, including sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches and feeling tense, sadness, and dizziness.
The study divided the children into 3 groups: nuclear families, shared-parenting families, and children that lived with only 1 parent. Of the 150,000 children, 69% of them lived in nuclear families, while 19% of the children lived with both parents, and 13% lived with only one parent. Children in the nuclear families reported the fewest psychosomatic problems, while the ones in the shared-parenting families reported significantly fewer problems than the children who lived with only one parent.
Everyday contact with both parents seems to be the key in determining a child’s stress factor. Not only does increased time with each parent promote strong bonds with both parents (rather than just one), but also the shared parenting approach gives the children access to more resources. Exposing children to parents’ social circles, families, and material goods makes a child less vulnerable and stressed.
Just imagine the financial implications of living with one parent. Yes, the custodial parent is likely receiving child support, but that’s never enough to cover all the actual expenses of raising a child. Putting a kid with one parent is essentially cutting their access to money in half. It’s not about giving the children money; it’s more about them reaping any benefits more money may provide.
For example, when divorced parents are constantly fighting with each other over who pays for the child’s soccer equipment or prom dress, the child is going to be stressed anytime those types of money issues come up.
What’s the Downside?
Well, for starters, children can sometimes constantly go back and forth between homes in shared custody situations. This can cause children to have a hard time adjusting to a normal routine, especially for young children who prefer stability or a child with a disability.
Sometimes, shared or joint custody can lead to more arguments between the parents. Often times, important daily decisions need to be made which requires more frequent discussions between the parents and, let’s be honest, divorced couples don’t always see eye-to-eye on parenting issues, especially when personal emotions can get in the way.
If a couple is divorcing, it’s likely it’s because there are issues that cannot be resolved. It may be hard for some couples to move on with their own lives if they are in constant contact with the ex-spouse and this can create more stress for the child.
Shared Custody Arrangements Outweigh Any Negatives
Despite the negatives, shared custody arrangements are a great idea; better for the child and, ultimately, easier and better on the parents. Not only does each parent’s involvement play a role in the best interests of a child, but also taking custody arguments out of the mix would reduce litigation costs for the parents. The key in this type of legislation is maintaining judicial discretion in the cases that equal parenting is not in the best interests of the child.
Authored by Ashley Roncevic, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law