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New laws are changing child custody determinations

35489272_S (1).jpgChild custody laws have changed in Illinois and many other states in recent years. It was once common for one parent, often the mother, to be awarded primary custody and for the other parent to be awarded visitation on alternating weekends and holidays. Many states have enacted new laws that favor joint custody.

The sweeping changes have been enacted in response to lobbying by father's rights organizations that promote gender equality and equal parenting time. Courts have previously recognized the "tender years doctrine" that presumed that women were superior natural caregivers when awarding primary custody to mothers.

Advocacy groups have pointed out that social science research suggests that children in a shared parenting arrangement benefit academically and socially and have better physical health compared to children who spend most of their time with one parent. The new laws in many states encourage the creation of parenting plans, which studies have shown lead to more equal division of parenting time.

Critics have responded to the changes by saying that the laws will limit the role of judges in deciding what is in the best interests of the child. The laws also impact awards of child support, which critics say is unfair to women who have spent much of their time raising children at home during a marriage while earning less in the workforce.

Parents who have questions regarding child custody litigation may benefit from consulting an experienced family law attorney. A new law in Illinois requires that the terms "parental responsibilities" and "parenting time" be used instead of "child custody" and "visitation." This change is intended to avoid describing child custody determinations in terms of a winner-takes-all approach.

Unfortunately, many judges still have a biased view that mothers are the best primary caregivers. An attorney may be able to help parents develop a shared parenting plan and advocate for equal parenting time so that the case does not have to go to court.

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