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Child advocates warn that child custody guidelines need revamped

Once a family has been through a divorce, most parents take care to place the needs of their children first. While the issue of child custody can often be a contentious issue, the majority of parents trust the family courts to ensure that the health and safety of their children will be a priority. Unfortunately, some child advocates conducted a study that appears to show that children can wind up in the care of a parent who poses a threat to their well-being. The 24-month study included Maryland families as well as families in eight other states.

One mother recently related the nightmare she and her son endured when an evaluator appointed by the court determined that the child's father would be the preferred full-time guardian. This determination was made in spite of evidence that a pediatrician stated that the boy had been sexual abused purportedly while in the care of his father. Surprisingly, the court ordered the mother to cease discussing abuse with her son or taking him to be examined for signs of abuse, even after a separate agency found that enough evidence existed to rule that the father was the one responsible for the sexual abuse of the boy.

The study reportedly found that this case was not rare. Instead, researchers reported that allegations of physical or sexual abuse are frequently ignored by those who help determine which parent would be the most suitable to be granted full or joint custody. In many situations, the parent who is concerned that abuse is taking place is the one viewed as being hostile and, therefore, less suitable as a primary care-giver. Those who are alarmed by the fact that abusive parents are gaining custody of children believe that the court appointees are the ones to blame for these questionable decisions.

According to varying sources, up to 39 percent of children end up having unrestricted visits with an abusive parent or living full-time with a parent who has caused them harm. Recently, two senators have proposed a resolution that could aid in overhauling the family court system, thereby ensuring that child custody is awarded to the parent best suited to provide the majority of care. In the meantime, Maryland parents are entitled to seek out an attorney who can provide them with information while working with them to find the best possible solutions for their family. 

Source: salon.com, "Custody in crisis: How family courts nationwide put children in danger", Laurie Udesky, Dec. 11, 2016

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