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Florida considers shift toward 50/50 child custody norm

The Florida legislature is currently considering a bill that would require family court judges to approach child custody cases from the position that 50/50 shared custody is the best outcome. The bill has passed the Senate and is now headed for the House, where it is expected to encounter opposition. Currently, family court judges are allowed to weigh each child custody case on its own merits, and are directed to look at all of the facts and evidence before making a determination that is in the best interests of the child or children involved.

Should the bill be signed into law, Florida judges would have to begin each custody case with the presumption that equally shared child custody is in the best interests of the child. They would still be able to deviate from that outcome by means of 22 different criteria. However, many feel that taking a stance supporting 50/50 custody will prejudice judges before any given case even makes it to court.

Those who support the change believe that a 50/50 custody approach would give both parents a fair chance at remaining involved in the lives of their children. They point out that the change is about equality and is long overdue in a system in which one parent usually retains the bulk of custody rights while the other falls into a pattern of occasional visitor. They also assert that judges would still be able to deviate from equal custody if any of the 22 criteria are met.

Opponents claim that, in many cases, parents are not equally fit to provide for the needs of their children. They also insist that making a change that supports 50/50 custody is likely to overwhelm the courts with new cases, as parents seek to change their existing child custody determinations. They feel that the current law gives judges the discretion to award custody rights based on the particulars of each case that comes before a court and that judicial discretion is essential to a fair outcome that serves the interests of the child.

As the proposed law moves forward in the legislative process, many in Florida will follow the matter. Florida is not the only state that is considering a shift toward equally shared child custody. As more and more states look into the matter, there could be change on the horizon for parents across the nation.

Source: miamiherald.com, "Florida Senate passes bill that helps give divorced parents equal time with children", Michael Auslen, Feb. 23, 2016

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