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More states moving toward shared parenting

Arizona parents who are going through a divorce often find the process of determining who will have primary physical and legal custody of their children to be contentious. Historically, courts have usually deferred to the mother as the party who should end up with the children, and statistics bear this out. Census data shows that more than 80 percent of custodial parents are mothers, and in a study conducted by the Nebraska court system, it was found that in custody cases in that state between 2002 and 2010, nearly 75 percent of the noncustodial fathers were only able to see their children an average of 5.5 days per month.

There is, however, an emerging movement pushing towards making custody determinations more balanced. Almost 20 states have introduced legislation that would change existing child custody laws following a legal separation or divorce to encourage shared parenting. For instance, a bill in Colorado seeks to recognize parental rights as equal and fundamental. Another, introduced in Texas, would grant both parents equal custody rights as the default determination. In Utah, legislation was enacted that affects noncustodial parents and increases their parenting time from 80 to 145 overnight visits each year.

However, the long-standing trend for courts to grant physical custody to the mother still prevails in most states. The National Parents Organization conducted a study nationwide that ranked each state regarding its statutes on child custody to determine how they took into account shared parenting. The result was no state received an excellent grade, while several received grades that were deemed quite poor.

Research has shown that children do better when spending more of an equal amount of time with each parent following a divorce and that the children exhibit less stress as a result. A family law attorney might be of assistance in helping a parent negotiate a custody and visitation agreement that is in the best interests of the child.

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