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Shared parenting approaches on the rise

While the governor of Florida vetoed a bill the legislature passed in 2016 mandating shared custody as the default in child custody agreements, shared parenting is still on the rise. Other states are considering similar bills, and a meta-analysis found that across 15 studies, children benefit physically, emotionally and behaviorally from shared custody.

Opponents of the legislation include some legal groups and women's organizations. They argue that legislating shared custody will provide less protection for women in abusive or controlling relationships. They also say that it could make it less likely for women to receive child support, which is an important component in equalizing income differences between men and women. Furthermore, the opponents say that in healthy co-parenting relationships, shared parenting tends to happen anyway and that the studies are largely drawn from those positive situations and not ones in which there is a great deal of acrimony between parents.

The shared custody trend is led by fathers' rights groups that oppose the traditional arrangement in which the mother is granted primary physical custody and the father is relegated to the role of part-time parent. However, some argue that alternative resolution approaches, such as mediation, are better than legislation at addressing these issues. Florida is one of several states that have adopted terms and concepts such as "time-sharing" and "parenting plans" to replace custody and visitation.

A parenting plan can cover a number of potential issues ranging from how children will spend the holidays and vacations to bedtimes, homework help and who is responsible for taking them to extracurricular activities. Mediation may help parents who are struggling to get along because, unlike litigation, it aims toward a cooperative approach that leaves both parties satisfied. Parents may also find it helpful to use the same standard a court would, which is what is in the "best interests of the child," to avoid involving the child in parental disputes.

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