There is a growing trend in some states to move towards shared parenting. Legislators in nearly 20 states are currently either considering or will consider proposals to mandate equal parenting plans during a divorce. Advocates say that for too long, men have been at a distinct disadvantage when it comes time to divide up parenting responsibilities in a divorce. The new measures are aimed at leveling the playing field by making shared parenting arrangements the default, but could these proposed new child custody laws lead to financial problems?
Of course, critics have pointed out that such plans suffer from several flaws. One example is that it eliminates judicial discretion, forcing judges to implement a plan that their many years of experience may indicate is ill advised. Rather than allowing the judges the opportunity to truly weigh the pros and cons and then decide, judges would have their hands forced by the proposed new measures.
Another problem is that these proposed new laws could give abusive husbands further power in a divorce. If there was a presumption in favor of shared arrangements, it would then shift the burden to the other spouse, the victim of abuse, to convince the court that shared time is not in the children's best interest.
Beyond these criticisms, another concern was recently raised regarding the equal parenting laws. Some have wondered whether the new measures will lead to financial hardship for the parents who previously would have walked away with full or primary custody, often women, as the amount of time that children spend with each parent is a significant factor in the calculation of child support.
The reality is that, with fathers getting more custody time, sometimes even 50/50, there is less of a reason for the father to provide money to the mother in the form of child support. Child support payments exist because one parent is doing more parenting and needs the money from the other parent to compensate for the imbalance. If both parents truly are sharing the work, then the financial justification disappears.
As a result, it is quite possible that single mothers, many of whom rely on this money to help them get established on their own, may have to make do with less. This is especially troubling in cases where a man might push for shared custody just to avoid the financial burden and, once he is successful, continue to allow the big financial matters to fall on the shoulders of the mother.