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States urged to amend child custody laws

Couples contemplating a divorce in New Jersey could perhaps be affected by the growing support throughout the country for dramatic changes to the manner in which custody disputes are resolved. Reform groups are lobbying state legislators to amend child custody laws to authorize judges to award joint custody where appropriate. Shared custody advocates argue that current laws favoring the awarding of child custody to one parent interfere with parenting time and are not in the best interests of the child.

Proponents of changes to the way in which child custody is awarded point to the importance of both parents maintaining a relationship with children following the end of a couple's relationship. Couples have been free to work out shared custody arrangements as part of a divorce agreement or in a negotiated settlement of a custody dispute, but states have been slow in allowing judges to resolve custody issues by ordering shared custody absent an agreement between the parents.

Shared custody laws are not without their detractors who are concerned that mandating an equal division of parenting time might be inviting further conflicts as couples battle over whether each is getting an equal amount of time with the child. Some states have addressed that issue by wording their statutes so as to avoid a strict requirement for equal time.

Bills pending in states around the country would exclude joint custody arrangements from cases in which there is evidence of domestic violence, domestic abuse or substance abuse. People's emotions in cases involving the termination of a relationship and child custody can influence the decisions they make. An attorney could address questions and concerns that a parent might have when confronted by a child custody dispute.

Source: USA Today, "Shared parenting could be new divorce outcome", Jonathan Ellis, January 27, 2014

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