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Proposed changes could impact child custody nationwide

Legislatures across the country are responding to developments in the way Americans view traditional parenting roles. Lobbying efforts from fathers' rights organizations have been at the forefront of a movement to make equal parenting time the starting point for child custody arrangements in divorce litigation. At least 20 state legislatures are considering changes to laws that have historically been interpreted to favor mothers over fathers in custody disputes.

Most of the proposed legislation changes follow the model adopted last year in Kentucky, which makes joint physical custody and equal parenting time the standard when courts are considering how to approach the difficult task of breaking apart divorcing families. In many states, child support calculations are based upon parenting time, and an equal split could lead to the elimination of child support in many cases. Some women's rights organizations and family law attorneys are critical of proposed changes and maintain the rolling back of child support for divorced women is not in the best interests of children when working mothers have historically received lower wages than their male counterparts. Critics also argue that changes will further enable abusive spouses by granting them an initial presumption of fitness as a parent.

Advocates of proposed legislative changes point out that the vast majority of cases involve non-abusive spouses who simply want to fully participate in rearing children. Under proposed changes, judges will maintain authority to alter the parenting time formulas based upon the best interests of children on a case-by-case basis, thereby providing a safety guard against abusive or unfit parents.

A family law consultation may help parents considering divorce make informed decisions about the impact of these potential changes. Many child custody and visitation plans are reached by agreement of the parents, but the proposed changes might alter the strength of each parent's relative negotiating position.

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