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Courts and child custody: More discretion or more guidelines?

In an ideal world, all divorcing or separating parents would be able to share parenting time on a 50-50 basis. Of course, every family situation is unique, and parenting plans have to be carefully crafted to protect the best interest of children; not every parenting plan provides for equally shared time with the kids.

New Jersey law provides that both parents have rights regarding parenting time and custody, but courts will take into consideration a number of factors when deciding on an appropriate parenting plan. In other words, if there is a dispute over child custody issues, it is important for the parents to have legal assistance in creating a parenting plan that the court will approve and that is truly best for the child.

As cultural norms have changed, so have child custody decisions. Courts increasingly recognize the importance of having both parents play active roles in a child's life. A number of states have recently moved to address their family laws to promote more shared parenting. For example, in South Dakota, it was proposed that state law should presume that parenting time be split equally between the parents.

However, there are issues to consider beyond the goal of shared parenting. Opponents of a presumed 50-50 split say that such a presumption could lead to further abuse among spouses who have an undocumented history of domestic violence. Not having instances of domestic violence officially on record, perhaps in the form of a restraining order, could hinder an abused person's ability to prevent an equal split of parenting time.

In New Jersey, divorcing parents are required to work out a parenting plan that clarifies each party's amount of parenting time and who will have joint or sole legal custody. Deciding these matters can be complex and overwhelming without the right assistance, but a family law attorney can help parents define their goals with a view toward the best possible solutions.

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

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