Valerie L. Sizelove
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Freelance writer, mom of four.

Times are changing. In divorced families and child custody arrangements, traditional “every-other-weekend” visits with dad are being replaced with more and more co-parenting arrangements, allowing children to spend more time with both parents. These changes are, in part, due to fathers’ rights movements popping up around the country — today’s fathers are fighting harder for equal parenting rights. Courts today also recognize that children benefit the most from ongoing contact with both parents. Plus, with the rise of same-gender marriages, traditional father-mother custody norms no longer apply.

One arrangement that’s becoming more and more common is equal shared parenting. This custody agreement has been making its way through domestic relations courts across the country, and some are beginning to use it as a default parenting plan when assigning parental custody.  

What is equal shared parenting?

You’ve probably heard of shared parenting or co-parenting, in which parents both play a significant role in raising their child, rather than one parent having full custody and the other parent (usually fathers) being granted visitation time. Equal shared parenting is an extension of co-parenting, but it divides time and responsibilities equally between both parents.

Sometimes called 50/50 parenting, an equal shared parenting plan means the child spends half of her time with one parent and the other half with the other parent. Both parents’ homes are considered the child’s residential home, and each parent retains the same amount of power when making legal or medical decisions regarding the child. There is often no child support order, as both parents are equally financially responsible for the child.

Laws.

Traditionally, courts have favored mothers in child custody and parenting time decisions. The common situation of the past was for courts to assign full custody to one parent (usually the mother), while allowing the other parent visitation time and a child support obligation. However, fathers over time have begun to challenge tradition, and the Fathers’ Rights movement has emerged with hope to change legislation and level the playing field between parents. There are also now families with two mothers or two fathers, making old parenting stereotypes obsolete.

Some state governments are beginning to change the standard assignment of parenting time. Some have made changes to the assumed guardianship while the agreement is being worked out. Others have given the court the right to assign equal parenting automatically, unless the best interest of the child is in danger. Arizona, Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon and Virginia all have passed legislation for courts to either assign 50/50 parenting temporarily, prefer it in the long-run or consider shared parenting as an option at all. Other states have currently pending legislation on the matter or have had legislation vetoed after working its way through government chambers.

Here are some recent and current state legislative actions surrounding and related to equal shared parenting plans:

• Illinois.

Laws are pending that would assign 50/50 parenting unless it could be proven detrimental to the child (i.e. domestic violence or abuse).

• Arizona.

This state’s law holds a presumption against joint custody if domestic violence has occurred.

• Florida.

In 2016, Senate Bill 668 recommended courts begin with the presumption of equal parenting time. It passed in the Florida House and Senate but was vetoed by Governor Rick Scott.

• Kentucky.

In 2017, House Bill 492 was passed, stating that if parents could agree on a temporary parenting plan during court proceedings, it would be favored by the court. However, if the parents couldn’t agree, the child would spend equal time between both households. House Bill 528 was created to address permanent parenting time and custody. It also indicates that in the absence of an agreed parenting plan, children should be parented 50/50, unless a past of domestic violence is presented to the court.

• Missouri.

This state passed House Bill 1550 in 2016, which supported an ongoing relationship for children with both parents. Currently, House Bill 1667 seeks to presume that equal parenting is in the best interest for children. This bill has yet to pass.

Pros and cons.

Is equal shared parenting a reasonable way to standardize child custody cases? Some proponents argue that 50/50 parenting is in the best interest of a child, while others claim it can be damaging. Here are some points from both sides of the argument.

Pros.

  • Children benefit when both parents are a part of their lives.
  • Removes some of the gender stigmas of parenting.
  • Gives fathers power and more of a voice.
  • Children with both parents involved have higher self-esteem and perform better in school.
  • Helps parents work together equally and as a team.

Cons.

  • Is it really in the best interest of the child? Parents who cannot effectively cooperate and coordinate can place stress on their child.
  • Legislation doesn’t support the best interests of individual children — every situation is different.
  • May eliminate or complicate child support.
  • Conflict from the parental relationship that continues can be harmful to children.
  • It can be hard on the child to keep going back and forth between their parents' homes.

Making the decision.

Every family is unique, so a parenting plan that works for one child may be totally inappropriate for another. It’s important to assess the pros and cons of any parenting plan before making a decision. Most courts prefer the parents to come to an agreement on their own, rather than assigning a custody arrangement because this is the best way for an arrangement to meet the needs of the child and family.

Equal shared parenting may work well for many families, but in some cases, it may not be a good idea. For instance, in cases of domestic violence and abuse, children need to be protected from offending family members. Parents who fight all the time may not be able to make a co-parenting situation work, and this can cause undue stress on the child. In any case, families trying to navigate a child custody case should look at all possible options and consider the benefits and risks of each.

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