In 2017, a number of states either passed new laws or considered new laws which would put shared parenting into focus. The trend toward co-parenting is not a new one. The laws demonstrate an effort to correct bias and misconceptions about parenting and in response to cultural shifts.
This past year, more than 20 states considered bills to facilitate shared parenting or make shared parenting a legal presumption in court decisions. As examples, Kentucky was successful in implementing a law that equal parenting time would be standard for temporary orders while a divorce was being finalized. And in Michigan, the state considered a bill that would make equal parenting time the presumption for custody cases.
Miles away from the “tender years” doctrine
The tender years doctrine played a major role in many custody decisions starting from the late 19th century and continuing into the 1950s and 1960s. This doctrine assumes that during the child’s “tender years” – usually those children under age 5 – it is more beneficial for mother to have primary custody. This doctrine has largely been debunked and as cultural norms have shifted, the value of co-parenting has come into focus. Some critics argue that judges still have a bias in favor of mothers.
Father’s rights movement
In response to shifting attitudes, a father’s rights movement started to challenge the “tender years” doctrine and any bias that would place emphasis on mothers and their superior parenting skills. While controversial in some of its positions, this movement brought to light the benefits of co-parenting and shared parenting as a starting point for court decisions.
Best interests of the children
Despite the legislative changes that are developing throughout the country, one thing remains consistent. The best interest standard remains intact and proponents and critics of these shared parenting bills all agree that that standard should remain the governing one to implement any custody decision. The difference with these bills is that we are shifting the definition of exactly what the best interests of children means. That definition is different for every family and every child which is why continuing this balancing test makes sense for custody decisions. Focusing on what is better for our children is progress indeed.