The New Child Custody Law Standard

The American dream has always been built around the family. A mother, a father, kids, a house with a lush green lawn and a white picket fence. Even with changing times, that idea has not been fully stripped from our culture, even though we understand happiness can be found in many forms of the family unit. Nonetheless, the surviving concept of the “ideal family unit” in the American culture only makes it more difficult to see two parents fighting for custody of their child, leaving “one as a parent, and the other as a visitor” at the end of the divorce process. But now a new trend in child custody law toward a joint custody standard is pushing to change that common outcome.

Changes to Child Custody Laws

At Shah & Kishore we have always had a philosophy that is centered around keeping the family structure and routine as consistent as possible, while keeping the best interest of the child(ren) as a priority. With this new trend, we are glad to see many of the state courts around the country, including Maryland, are starting to catch up to our way of thinking. Around the country many changes are happening but the approach state by state is varied:

  • In Kentucky, a law is being finalized that will make joint physical custody and equal parenting time the standard for temporary orders while a divorce is being finalized.
  • In Florida, a 2017 bill that assumed equal time for child custody plans was accepted by a majority of the legislature, but it ended up being vetoed by the governor.
  • In Michigan, lawmakers are considering a bill to make shared custody & parenting time the starting point for custody decisions.

These pushes for change stem from parents’ rights groups like the National Parents Organization, in-depth child psychology and development research, and changes to the family structure. But this shift does not mean that everyone is on board for movement toward a joint custody preference, and both sides have compelling arguments as to why this change should or should not happen.

Reasons for Joint Custody Standard

There is strong research and support for a joint custody standard from many organizations, many of which are fighting for the parental rights of fathers, who are pushing these bills. The main vehicles that they are using to drive their legislation forward include:

  • Changes in Family Lifestyle & Structure: It is common for a household to have both parents working with some houses (40%) even having the mother as the “primary breadwinner” in the house. The mindset of parenting roles is also changing, recognizing that fathers are capable of performing tasks that were commonly attributed to mothers, and vice versa.
  • New Research Related to Parenting and Child Psychology: Research supports the benefits of a child having both parents in their life consistently, as well as the importance of a father role in the healthy mental and social development of a child.

Reasons Opposing Joint Custody Standard

Even with over 20 states pushing to change the laws toward the standard of child custody, there are still many states that have those in opposition of a change in standard because:

  • Joint custody could lead to a reduction in child support. With gender wage gap issues, custody law changes would not eliminate the need for child support just because women are working.
  • There are many scenarios where there is an abusive parent or a case of domestic violence in the marriage. Extra time and money should not have to be spent proving why a parent with abusive behavior should not have custody
  • This solution is only viable for low-conflict divorces. There is research that supports joint/shared custody, but this way of parenting only works when the parents get along.

Changes Specifically in Maryland

Many states are still going back and forth between bills and changes, and Maryland is no different. The trend has reached this state and has been in discussion since 2013, when the Commission on Child Custody Decision Making was created. Assembled to research and study all aspects of child custody, they created a 300-plus page report that was released in late 2014 addressing:

  • How to make child custody orders and modifications fairer, more uniform, and equitable;
  • Reduction of litigation in child custody proceedings;
  • Promoting and ensuring children’s continued relationships with both parents;
  • Maximizing involvement of both parents in a child’s life
  • Whether gender discrimination exists in custody decisions, and if so, how to address it;
  • The role of case management systems;
  • Training programs currently available to judges;
  • How domestic violence proceedings and interventions affect custody determinations; and
  • Whether language can be standardized for custody determinations.

Since this data has been presented, discussions in Maryland legislature have occurred, but no changes have been made to the current law yet. There are many plans in place and recommendations from the commission related to requiring parties to submit proposed parenting plans, and adoption custody statutes. With the current standard still focused on the best interest of the child, judges and couples can still make sound decisions, but more progressive laws can make for a positive impact in child custody cases.

At the end of the day, we have always believed that a child’s custody should not be treated the same as marital property, where one person “wins” because they got the house (for example). The care of a child and the custody of a child should always be in their best interest, which often is having the opportunity to have a strong relationship with both parents. With these new laws in place, the father now has the opportunity to be a part of their child’s life without having to prove in court why they are important. Continue to check back on the Shah & Kishore Family Law blog regularly for more updates on the trends in child custody and divorce laws.

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