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How shared parenting is changing child custody

Some Pennsylvania parents who are getting a divorce might be interested in shared parenting as a custody arrangement rather than one parent having primary physical custody while the other parent has visitation rights. Some states are even considering or passing legislation that makes this arrangement the default, but this is controversial. Women's groups and some legal organizations oppose it.

Studies back the idea that children benefit from shared parenting situations, including a meta-analysis that looked at 15 countries and found better physical, behavioral and emotional outcomes. Opponents argue that these studies are based on situations in which the parents get along and would tend to share custody anyway. They believe that a better approach would be using alternate conflict resolution methods such as mediation.

The movement is driven by fathers' rights activists. Traditionally, a doctrine that assumed that women were better caregivers dominated custody decisions and resulted in physical custody usually going to mothers. When the courts shifted to focus on the best interests of the child, these activists argue that the bias remained. Mothers do still tend to get custody in the majority of cases. Shared parenting supporters also point out that the arrangement could create more chances for women to pursue educational and career opportunities since they will not be the main caregivers.

Whether or not they want to pursue a shared parenting arrangement, parents can negotiate a child custody agreement with the help of their respective attorneys during a divorce and put together a parenting plan if they wish. Such a plan might help address potential areas of conflict before they arise such as which parent is responsible for certain extracurricular activities or how vacations will be planned.

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