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New proposals could affect child custody cases

Massachusetts is one of five states currently considering modifications to their existing child custody laws. These proposals would mandate that judges presume it to be in the children's best interests to spend equal time with each parent whenever possible.

This is indeed a sea of change, as it would give fathers more opportunities for fairer custody rulings, as the National Parents Organization — a fathers' rights group — is advocating. The group cites research indicating that joint custody can be the healthier option for today's kids. New data shows that kids spending more time with their dads have more academic successes and fewer problems with substance abuse and incidents of juvenile delinquency.

One not-yet-published decade-long study by the National Institutes of Health determined that kids who felt like they mattered to their dads were less prone to develop mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

But one Boston law professor worries that the shared parenting concept can be "seductive" to state legislators, but could force families into problematic scenarios. Fathers' rights groups counter that judges still have the discretion to act in the children's best interests.

One Massachusetts attorney who was a former judge in family court reiterates that "[i]t's about the kids, and what is in their best interest, not in their parent's best interest." Judges are able to study how the living situation was in the past and whether it should be modified and the reasons why. Factors influencing the decision might include where each parent lives, where the kids attend school and their ages.

If you are concerned about how any proposed changes could affect the present or future custody of your children, it may be wise to consult with your family law attorney to determine your course of action.

Source: KTOO, "More Time for Dads? States Weigh Changes to Custody Laws," Jen Fifieild, March 27, 2016

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