When it comes to child custody legislation, caution is crucial

Over the past decade or so, there has been increasing public debate about gender bias in child custody decisions. The commonly held belief is that courts too often favor giving custody to mothers, often to the detriment of both children and fathers who want to stay actively involved in their children’s lives.

Missouri is one of many states that have seen an increase in fathers’ rights advocacy, which is evidence that gender bias is also a problem in our state. What steps should be taken to combat and correct this bias? As we’ll discuss in today’s post, that’s not an easy question to answer.

Legislative solutions to child custody issues can be effective, but they can also have serious unintended consequences. A bill currently under consideration in Colorado seems to be an example. Referred to as the 50/50 parenting bill, it would seemingly start the custody process with the presumption that parents should share equal custody. According to news sources, it would also “recognize parental rights as fundamental rights.”

To be sure, equal custody is a very worthwhile goal in many cases. Problems arise, however, when legislation is too broad and creates a one-size-fits-all template. Problems also arise when laws are passed that take judicial discretion out of the equation.

This bill would seemingly work well in cases where both parents are fit to retain parental rights and want to continue a relationship their children. But news reports don’t mention any provisions to handle cases of spousal violence, child abuse or drug/alcohol abuse. In such cases, giving parents equal custody would almost certainly not be in the best interests of the child.

Even when abuse isn’t a factor, there may be cases where one parent has traditionally done all of the child-rearing work and the other parent has been largely uninvolved and irresponsible. Is it fair or appropriate to award equal custody in these situations?

From the outside looking in, it appears as though this bill has very good intentions. But any family law legislation passed without considering all reasonable contingencies could end up doing more harm than good.

Source: KDVR News, “Bill would give parents going through divorce equal time with their kids,” Chris Jose, April 14, 2015

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