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Steven A. Mason Steven A. Mason
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Shifting the Focus to Fathers’ Parental Rights

Although many states across the country have laws that deal with co-parenting and time-sharing measures in the event of a divorce with kids, a number of fathers’ rights advocates believe that judges are not doing enough to ensure that fathers have an equal hand in day-to-day childrearing. Under Florida Statute Section 61.13, our state’s public policy is to take steps to ensure that “each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents” after a divorce. To that end, the statute makes clear that “there is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child” when developing a time-sharing schedule.

However, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, a number of legislators have proposed new laws that are aimed at actually encouraging judges to equal time-sharing schedules. While Florida emphasizes that there is no presumption for either a mother or father, some states want to go a step further and actively encourage equal time-sharing between mothers and fathers in order to buttress fathers’ rights and access to their children. Will Florida do something similar? And would such a law result in more fathers spending time with their kids after a divorce is finalized?

Maximizing Time with Kids for Each Parent

Will a father’s time with his child be maximized if a judge is not required to award equal time to both parents? That is the question driving the legislation we mentioned. Indeed, many fathers’ rights advocates believe that judges should be required “to award equal time to each parent unless there is proof that such an arrangement would not be in a child’s best interests.” And some legislators agree. They tend to believe that judges will have to operate under a presumption of equal time-sharing unless there is a good reason to avoid it.

Surely, it is important for children to spend time with both of their parents after a divorce, assuming that each parent has the child’s best interests at heart. Such an assumption is one of the reasons that Florida’s statute wants to be sure that kids see both of their parents on a regular basis even if their parents are not married, and that both parents participate in raising those children.

While it is certainly not an unpopular view that children should spend time with both parents, should states operate under a presumption of equal time-sharing? Some opponents of the proposed measures argue that judges need discretion in order to truly do what is in a child’s best interest. In other words, requiring judges to award equal time to both parents could result in one parent having leverage where he (or she) should not.

Both Parents Must Play a Meaningful Role

Although some commentators have voiced their opposition to any proposed legislation that would require equal time-sharing (rather than simply emphasizing the lack of a presumption for one parent over another), those involved in child advocacy underscore the importance of both parents playing a meaningful role in healthy kids’ lives.

As Linda Nielsen, a psychology professor at Wake Forest University, explained, fathers often are reduced to positions in which they function more like uncles rather than parents. For instance, in situations where a father has shared custody but only a limited physical role based on the time-sharing agreement, that father is not playing a meaningful role in the day-to-day life of his kids.

By making a presumption of equal time-sharing part of the law, commentators suggest that judges’ biases—which can inadvertently lead to a situation that is not the best one for the child—could be nearly erased.

Would such changes to the law benefit Floridians with children who are filing for divorce? The answer to that question may be different depending on your situation. If you have questions about co-parenting and time-sharing agreements in Florida, you should discuss your case with a dedicated Fort Lauderdale family law attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood Law Offices of Steven A. Mason, P.A. for legal advice at 954-963-5900 or leave a message online.

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