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Why don't more divorce courts award joint legal child custody?

Do divorcing fathers have cause to be concerned about how a court might determine legal custody and visitation issues? Said another way, do courts accord a legal presumption in favor of the mother when determining the best interest of a child? 

The answer requires an examination of both state custody laws and statistical data. Although many studies confirm the benefits of shared parenting, courts across the country do not award equal decision-making authority to parents. In fact, primary custody is awarded to mothers in over 80 percent of child custody cases in America, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Does this reflect a bias of the courts? We would caution against jumping to this conclusion. Our law firm focuses on divorce issues, including child custody and support. We know that there are many factors that a court might consider in determining what is in a child’s best interest. To the extent that one parent has been functioning as a child’s primary caregiver, a court may prefer to maintain the status quo instead of uprooting a child and the parenting style to which the child has become accustomed.

We would also caution against seeking primary custody simply for the title, or worse yet, as a strategy to undermine the other parent during a divorce. Even where sole legal custody has been awarded to one parent, both parents can continue to play an active role in a child’s life. Indeed, legal custody is not the same as physical custody, or visitation. It may well be that one parent does not have the time or resources to make all of the decisions, but can accommodate a joint physical custody arrangement.

Source: SILive, “Child custody? Favor shared parenting in divorces,” Leslie Loftis, May 14, 2015

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