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While this progress is encouraging, unfortunately there is much ground to make up. Recently the National Parents Organization Shared Parenting Report Card revealed that, nationwide, the custody laws in the U.S. do a poor job of promoting shared parenting. These developments coincide with the publication of a study in Sweden that shows the benefits of shared parenting. Last month, researchers found that children who spend time living with both separated parents are less stressed than those who live with just one.

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According to a recent analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts, there have not been any significant reforms to state laws on custody arrangements for more than 40 years. In 1970, the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act established five criteria to determine the “best interests” of the child. Groups like the National Parents Organization have rallied repeatedly for reforms that respect a child’s right to be nurtured by both parents.

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Florida’s alimony laws were written in a day when women had little economic power, divorce was uncommon, and cohabiting was scandalous. Those days are long gone, but the old-fashioned alimony laws – favoring permanent alimony, until death – linger on.

Current law causes immense hardship for those who must support an ex-spouse until he dies or she dies, even for marriages of less than 10 years, even to healthy spouses who begin collecting at 33 years old. Hard to believe, but true.

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According to a recent analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts, there have not been significant reforms to state laws on custody arrangements for more than 40 years. In 1970, the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act established five criteria to determine the “best interests” of the child. Groups like the National Parents Organization have advocated for reforms that respect a child’s right to be nurtured by both parents.

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Over the past three years, nearly 35 states have considered measures that would change laws that govern which parent receives legal custody of a child following divorce or separation.

While this progress is encouraging, unfortunately there is much ground to make up. Recently the National Parents Organization’s Shared Parenting Report Card revealed that, nationwide, the custody laws in the U.S. do a poor job or promoting shared parenting. These developments coincide with the publication of a study in Sweden that shows the benefits of shared parenting. Last month, researchers found that children that spend time living with both separated parents are less stressed than those that live with just one.

In the study, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, researchers examined national data from nearly 150,000 12- and 15-year-old students in either 6th or 9th grade and studied their psychosomatic health problems, including sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches and stomachaches, feeling tense, sad or dizzy. They found that kids living with both parents reported significantly fewer problems than children in sole-custody arrangements.

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Most children of divorced parents who are not locked in conflict do best if they have plenty of time with each of their parents. Nevertheless laws and habits in family courts often leave these children with little access to one of their parents. Dan Deuel does a good job explaining how an ordinary citizen can get effectively involved in changing laws that do not serve families well.

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The National Parents Organization, a group that “seek better lives for children through family court reform that establishes equal rights and responsibilities for fathers and mothers”, is coming out in favor of new alimony reform legislation currently making it’s way through the Florida legislature.

The latest alimony reform bill would allow for more predictability in the Judge’s decision making it easier for the respective parties to financially plan for their lives following divorce but removes a controversial 50-50 child sharing component which drew Governor Rick Scott’s veto pen last year.

“The concept of permanent alimony is outdated in today’s society – alimony recipients must take some responsibility to earn a living after divorce in this day and age,” said Alan Frisher, Chair of National Parents Organization of Florida. “This welcome change would provide predictability and consistency for all, plus, divorcing spouses could settle their financial differences out of court versus spending countless dollars on wasteful litigation.”

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THIS NEW YEAR is off to a remarkable start. With hundreds of rallies across the country, we know there are a variety of reasons people are tired of injustice, inequality, imbalance, and discrimination.

In our work to reform Virginia’s family courts, we certainly empathize with the emotions and goals of the marchers. Sadly, our family courts remain unchanged from a 1950s dynamic of “women stay home, men stay at work.”

This mindset has led to the status quo of sole child custody after divorce or separation versus shared parenting — a flexible arrangement where a child spends as close to equal time as possible with each parent.

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For juridical delicacy, arguably few matters match child custody, and just last year, Missouri’s lawmakers acted to clarify and refine procedures involving that hot-button topic by passing House Bill No. 1550, generally known as just HB 1550.

One problem. As in most legislation, legalese shrouds the nuances and niceties of HB 1550.

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The primary reason divorce is so traumatic for children is that, far too often, they lose one parent in the process. Family courts routinely give sole or primary parenting time to one parent (usually the mother) and marginalize the other (usually the father) in the child’s life. A study conducted for Nebraska found that courts gave sole or primary custody to mothers in 75 percent of cases but to fathers in only 15 percent. Those noncustodial fathers were allowed by the courts to see their kids just 16 percent of the time.

Courts do this despite social science demonstrating that equal or near-equal parenting time for each parent produces the best outcomes for children of divorce. In 2014, Dr. Richard Warshak, author of “Divorce Poison,” analyzed the existing science on the welfare of the children of divorce. His work was endorsed by 110 scientists worldwide working in the field of children’s well-being and parenting time.

Authoritative as Warshak’s work is, the science on the need of children for fathers scarcely stops with it. For decades, we’ve known that fatherlessness is the bane of children and society. Put simply, we should be doing everything in our power to keep fathers in children’s lives.

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