As the current legislative session gets underway, Maryland lawmakers are expected to tackle the difficult topic of child custody reform. Specifically, Maryland may become the latest state to adopt so-called shared parenting custody laws. However, while there has been plenty of popular support for shared parenting laws, they remain highly controversial, with critics seeing them as placing the interests of parents ahead of children’s interests in custody disputes.
Tackling custody laws
As the Washington Post reports, in 2013 a state Commission on Child Custody Decision Making was formed with the task of providing lawmakers with suggestions about how the child custody decision-making process could be improved. Since that report was released in 2014, however, little headway has been made, largely over controversy over the standard that judges should use as a guide for determining child custody cases.
Currently, in child custody cases judges begin from the presumption that a final custody agreement should first and foremost be in the best interests of the child. Often, that means splitting time equally between both parents, but in other cases it can mean awarding sole custody to one parent because the other parent may not be well-equipped to share custody. Such judicial discretion allows judges to tailor each custody arrangement to the unique needs of the child.
Changing to shared custody
However, in recent years a growing number of states have tweaked the presumption that a child custody arrangement should always be in the best interests of the child by also directing judges to begin from the presumption that shared parenting is in the child’s best interests unless shown otherwise. Supporters of shared parenting laws argue that numerous studies have shown that children of shared parenting households tend to perform better in school and on behavioral tests than children who are raised in single-parent households. As the Maryland Reporter notes, about 25 states have considered introducing shared parenting laws in recent years and a fraction of those have actually passed such laws, most notably Arizona.
However, while most observers agree that shared parenting is indeed the best custody arrangement for most children, some see it as setting a dangerous precedent by telling judges that they must favor shared parenting arrangements in most cases. As the Washington Post editorial notes, most parenting arrangements after divorce are already shared parenting ones because most parents recognize that their children need both parents in their lives. However, child custody cases that actually reach court tend to be high-conflict ones in which one parent may very well be emotionally or psychologically unprepared to raise a child. In those cases, critics of shared parenting laws contend, it is important that judges have free rein to award custody to the parent who is more likely to be able to provide a safe and nurturing home.
Family law help
As the above article shows, family law issues, especially those involving children, can be highly contentious and emotional. That’s why anybody who has such an issue that they need to address should contact a family law attorney right away. An experienced attorney can help clients understand what their rights are and help them resolve their issue in as satisfactory a manner as possible.