In Search of Compromise - Shared Custody

Men’s and father’s rights advocates argue that what is called shared custody works to alleviate the inequalities of the traditional custodial-noncustodial parent routine. Shared custody enlarges the idea of joint legal custody. In this regime, both mother and father share physical and legal custody and work out a parenting plan that reflects a division of the child’s time.

Some states now have adopted laws requiring that in deciding custody, courts work from a presumption of shared parenting, and its seems likely that other jurisdictions will follow in that direction. An estimated one in five divorces with children take shape with shared custody arrangements.

Obviously, shared parenting cannot work in all cases. Mothers who oppose it, however, face the burden of proving that their husbands are unfit parents, and they cannot rely on their gender to automatically give them an advantage. Some feminist activists oppose the presumption arguing that it is unworkable between uncooperative parents and puts at risk women and children who are party to high-conflict divorces.

Father’s rights activists, who have made shared custody a top legislative priority, counter that this parenting regime results in a more than 90 per cent compliance in the payment of child support due.

The presumption of shared custody reduces the leverage that a woman finds in using – or threatening to use – custody to get what she wants in the division of the marital estate, and it increases the willingness of the wife to cooperate with her husband in parenting.

The exercise of visitation can become problematic when either spouse uses it as a weapon against the other. Some noncustodial fathers retaliate against their former partners by failing to exercise their visitation – and thus denying the woman free time that single mothers may very much need and enjoy. A far more common problem, however, happens in sole custody when the custodial mother relocates beyond a commutable distance (generally about 100 miles).

In order to prevent such relocations, which make visitation more difficult and expensive, a father must argue that the move is not in the "best interests of the child," but courts generally view these relocations favorably Judges reason that a move that is in the mother’s best interest (a new marriage or a new career) is also in the child’s best interest and generally approve such relocations.

A father opposing the relocation involving a mother with sole custody faces a steep climb because the former partner enjoys a constitutional right to travel. Some courts have eased the burden on the noncustodial father by requiring the custodial mother to pay some of the transportation costs of the exercise of visitation. Nonetheless, when a child lives more than a reasonably easy commutable distance from the noncustodial father the exercise of visitation and the quality of the parent-child relationship is strained. Shared custody could ease this problem because when both the mother and father agree to it they by definition agree to remain proximate to one another. Courts are increasing receptive to the idea of computer visitation, such as email and video links.



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