Divorce is a complicated series of events that can take days, months, or even years to bring to fruition and progress beyond. For couples who have children, questions of what the marital breakdown will look like are coupled with discussions around how to share the children between two households. Many times, parents are confronted with making thoughtful and logical decisions about the custody, parenting time, and the well-being of their children in the midst of coping with personal feelings of uncertainty, pain, and loss.
While the trend is changing, mothers still obtain primary custody more than ¾ of the time. This statistic begs the question, why aren’t fathers awarded more parenting time? There is no single answer to this question. Of course, custody should be limited or removed completely if the parent’s actions compromise the emotional and/or physical safety of the child. With that said, research reveals a number of other factors that appear to effect child custody negotiations.
Since many couples make potentially lasting custody arrangements before they enter a courtroom, I encourage couples to think about some of the factors that can influence custody arrangements.
Consider the following…………
- Custody decisions tend to be congruent with gender roles of the time. You can see this by looking at how custody has changed over time. Under Roman law, children belonged to men and were therefore left in the custody of men. During the Industrial Revolution, men were required to enter the workforce. Women assumed primary care giving roles and usually received custody after a separation. The Women’s movement initiated a shift to more gender equality and policies were introduced in the 1970’s in an effort to reduce gender based custody decisions. Today, dual income families are the norm, men have become more involved in parenting, and dissolving couples are increasingly open to joint custody.
- Custody decisions are also influenced by the parents’ perceptions of what they think the judge is likely to award. Sometimes, fathers believe that the judge will give the mother primary custody and do not ask for more parenting time.
- Public policies also influence custody decisions. The Best Interest of the Child standard (BIS), under the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, has been the standard in the United States since the 1970’s. Ideally, BIS hopes to move away from gender based decisions about custody to more egalitarian and flexible decisions that facilitate the well-being of the child. Realistically, lack of specific guidelines allows judges to make individual assessments and potentially biased decisions about custody. Joint or Shared Custody is growing in the United States. Instead of focusing primarily on providing stability for the child, joint custody focuses on assigning mutual parenting responsibility and building parent-child relationships. Depending on the study, recent research findings report that between70% and 90% of young adults favor the idea of joint custody.
Custody arrangements are one of the most important decisions a divorcing couple has to make. Sometimes, the parents desire to provide stability for the child prevents them from considering all of their options. Take the necessary time and get the professional help you need to make this decision. Remember, most often children want both parents to be engaged in their life. Adult children from divorce report wishing they had more time with their father while they were growing up. As difficult as it can be, parents have to consider what is in the best interest of the child.
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Shelly D. Mahon, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Human Development and Family Studies. Ms Mahon is a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2009/2010 Shelly D. Mahon
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