Though it happened without much fanfare, earlier this year Representative Susan C. Helm introduced a new family bill to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. PA HB 1397 is meant to amend child custody law.
Current child custody law uses the “best interest of the child” standard when determining who will have physical custody of children during a divorce. According to Helm, the new law would “remove language which presupposes the ‘custodial’ and ‘non-custodial’ model of split parenting.”
Instead, 50/50 parenting time becomes the starting point for judges to begin developing custody arrangement. The presumption is “rebuttable by clear and convincing evidence that shared physical and legal custody and equal parenting time is in the best interests of the child.” If the presumption cannot be rebutted, the arrangement must be “as close to practicable to 50% of the time spent with each parent, but in no case exceed 60% of the time with either parent.”
Under current custody law, neither parent is presumed to have a better case for physical custody than the other until all the facts of the case are brought into consideration.
Advantages of Presumed 50/50 Custody
This may well be a better way to ensure both parents remain involved in their children’s lives, to the benefit of the child.
There may be less need for custody litigation if this law comes to pass, as there will be a lot less to fight over. Supporters say this will free the courts to really focus on questions of domestic violence or child endangerment instead of having to deal with vindictive parents who try to take advantage of the court system.
Some studies have shown that judges award fathers custody in less than 15% of cases, though these studies do not take into account that societal factors impact this as often as judge bias. For example, in many households the mother still takes charge of most of the day-to-day raising of the child more often than fathers do. Still, it’s easy to understand why many people find this statistic to be especially alarming, and who, in light of evidence that children need both parents, would seek to correct the problem.
Disadvantages of Presumed 50/50 Custody
No legislation is without its weakness. Domestic violence advocates are certainly worried that this will open broad avenues for abusers to remain in their children’s lives.
Other opponents point out this could make it impossible for parents to so much as move out of the county in search of a better job or career, ultimately stifling opportunities for parents and children alike. They point to the differences in families and why it might be better to have a more flexible standard to address those differences.
They also note that the 10% of custody cases that do go to court are likely to be high-conflict cases. Studies have also shown that children are harmed more often than they’re helped when high-conflict parents attempt joint custody arrangements and that high-conflict parents are successful at maintaining these agreements less than 29% of the time.
50/50 Custody in Other States
Kentucky passed a 50/50 custody law last year. So far, nobody has reported on any deleterious effects, and nobody has raised a challenge to the law.
We’ll continue to keep an eye on the proposed law as it moves through the process in Pennsylvania, and we’ll be ready to help our clients respond effectively regardless of their situations should the law change.