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Maryland approach to child custody could be changing

Lawmakers in Maryland and all around the country are beginning to consider a change in the way child custody is handled after a divorce. Groups such as the National Parents Organization have helped support a push for what is being called "shared parenting." Advocates of the practice contend that 50/50 custody of a child should be the automatic outcome of a child custody case, except in situations where the child was known to have been abused by one parent. Supporters of the idea argue that children with divorced parents are "better served" by getting to spend an equal amount of time with both of them.

The NPO says that there are three primary reasons why this idea has caught on. The fist involves non-custodial parents who have felt increasingly frustrated by powers that courts typically award to custodial parents. Also, proponents argue that gender roles have changed since the time when many child custody laws were enacted, and more men are now taking on the responsibility of caring for children. Lastly, shared custody simply seems to be a popular idea in America, as indicated by several polls.

The idea has caught the attention of Maryland lawmakers, as the General Assembly has created a commission that will investigate child custody issues and processes in the state. The Commission on Child Custody Decision Making is expected to issue a final report later this year. A similar body was created in Connecticut. A shared parenting bill was passed in Florida in 2013, but it ended up be vetoed by Governor Rick Scott. In Minnesota, a measure that sought to increase minimum custody from 25 percent to 35 percent was also vetoed by the governor. Despite the fact that these bills were not signed into law, they serve as evidence that the idea is becoming more and more popular.

People opposed to shared parenting say that such a law could prevent judges from having flexibility when determining child custody arrangements. In Maryland, the findings of the commission remain to be seen. However, their report could play an important role in determining whether or not Maryland should adopt such a policy. Until then, a divorced parent must work closely with a family law attorney to attempt getting the amount of custody they desire.

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

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