For a long time, the common outcome of divorce for children was being awarded to one parent, with the other having to appeal for visitation rights. But there has been a movement afoot amongst advocates and lawmakers to revisit so-called shared-parenting laws. This would make it more common for judges to be flexible in determining custody arrangements that are in the best interest of children.
"The best interest of the child or children trump the interests of the filing parent," said Tom Barnett, the executive director of the South Dakota Bar Association.
In states like South Dakota, Connecticut and Maryland, laws are being brought up to a vote and task forces are being created to push the movement along. In Arkansas last year, there was a law passed that called for the "approximate and reasonable equal division of time" of children between parents in divorce proceedings. That represented a reversal of the state's case law, which stated that joint custody was not a favored outcome.
However, there is the opposite side of the coin. Krista Heeren-Graber, executive director of the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, also opposes mandatory shared parenting. In many situations, one person in a relationship might be the victim of abuse or of power and control by the other person. Often, victims don't ask for restraining orders or have other legal documentation, and thus wouldn't have the ability to fight 50-50 custody award.
"Our concern is always that domestic violence is a consideration when it needs to be," she said.
Shared parenting could be new divorce outcome (USA Today)