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Tennessee divorce courts might start promoting equal custody

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February 4, 2014

A number of state lawmakers in Tennessee are looking at child custody in a whole new way. There is a big push from advocates now who argue that divorcing parents should get equal custody.

Proponents of the shared parenting laws say that children are much better adjusted when they get the same amount of time with both parents. They are against laws that give custody to just one parent, except in cases where there’s a history of substance or physical abuse. Critics say that judges have to have some flexibility in determining custody arrangements that are optimal for children.

The Tennessee General Assembly, in 2010, thought about a bill where a court could order equal parenting time unless it discovered evidence that either parent was unfit to parent or the parents came to some other kind of agreement. However, the bill failed in that legislative session.

Arkansas lawmakers last year passed a bill that calls for the reasonable and approximate equal division of time of children between parents throughout the divorce proceedings. That was a huge reversal of the existing case law in the state, which said that joint custody was not a desirable outcome.

In Connecticut, there was a legislative task force assigned to studying family law issues, including whether the state should have support for shared custody as an optimal outcome for children. The task force is going to issue their full report very soon.

Here are some of the main reasons for the surge of interest in shared parenting laws:

  1. Gender roles have basically overlapped each other significantly, and more men have become caretakers.
  2. There are polls that show big numbers of Americans support shared custody.
  3. Over the last three decades, courts have given custodial parents a lot more powers, leaving non-custodial parents consternated and jumpstarting a backlash.
  4. There are more and more people who feel deeply disenfranchised.

A custody system where one parents get more time with kids over another is one that encourages bitterness and anger all around.

So many divorces are so messy because the stakes are so high.

Anyone who’s been involved in a long and protracted divorce battle, and where child custody is an issue, will tell you that the bitterness, arguing, fighting, problems, and hassles associated with it are just not worth it.

Building a presumption into the law that equal custody is the optimal outcome, and forcing that outcome in some cases, is something that is being given serious consideration. The Tennessee legislature has proposed several ideas along those lines. However, the bills have not passed, yet. There is a growing movement in support of shared custody, however. A fair system would encourage equal time spent with both parents, and reduce bitterness.