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Does 50-50 custody serve the best interests of the child?

Shared-parenting advocates in Minnesota's regional neighbor of South Dakota are not fully satisfied with new legislation that would change guidelines for establishing child custody. Proponents of automatic 50-50 shared parenting time say that the new child custody guidelines amount to only 'incremental change,' retaining an outdated system that awards one parent custody when both are equally able to raise the children. These policy supporters believe that a 50-50 split is appropriate in situations that do not involve abuse or another severely limiting factor. Still, representatives from South Dakota Shared Parenting, a joint-custody advocacy group, say that the new legislation would at least constitute a move in the right direction.

Proponents of more traditional custody agreements disagree with the idea that child custody should be split equally between parents in most situations. Courts must be careful to prioritize the needs and best interests of the child before the rights and preferences of the filing parent, for example. Further concerns exist about a 'stopwatch' mentality that could be wielded between parents to ensure that visitation time was exactly equal. Further, opponents of the 50-50 rule say that some victims of sexual or physical abuse may not feel comfortable asking for restraining orders, and they could lack other legal documentation that proves abuse. In those situations, children could be sent back into abusive homes in the interest of perfectly divided child custody.

Despite individual opinions, a large number of scientific studies show that children benefit from positive involvement of both parents in their lives. Kids with involved fathers, for example, are more likely to perform well in school, and they may even have lower rates of incarceration and teen pregnancy. Ultimately, the goal of a child custody agreement is to serve the best interests of the child - parental rights are usually considered secondary. Nonetheless, parents who are concerned about the fairness or equity of their own child custody agreements may benefit from consulting with a qualified Minnesota family attorney, who can help them learn more about their legal rights.

Source: Argus Leader, "South Dakota lawyers back child custody guidelines" Jonathan Ellis, Jan. 16, 2014

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