According to the American Bar Association’s Family Law Quarterly, the ‘average’ American family no longer exists in its traditional form. Once defined by marriage or biology, families have changed dramatically due to a steady divorce rate, a growing number of out-of-wedlock births and the volume of children living with persons outside the traditional nuclear family.
One of the many challenges factoring into today’s society is the divorce rate. When it comes to divorce, I believe that children are the ones who are undoubtedly affected the most. It is both parents’ jobs thereafter to do everything in their power to provide a sense of comfort and normality by staying involved in their child’s life.
One way this can be done is through the implementation of joint legal custody. Recently, the Child Custody and Support Advisory Committee met and I presented draft legislation on this very topic for the committee to consider and examine. The preliminary draft establishes a presumption that an award of joint legal custody is in the best interest of the child. This is an ideal arrangement for well-functioning, flexible parents who put their child’s needs first and can effectively co-parent.
Keep in mind that this legislation involves legal custody, which differs entirely from physical custody. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make certain decisions on behalf of the child, whereas physical custody refers to a parent’s legal right over physical control of the child.
During the committee’s most recent meeting they voted to adopt my proposed piece of legislation. The committee’s final report, which includes my proposal, will be presented to the Indiana General Assembly during the 2012 legislative session.
It has been shown that it is in the best interest of children to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents in the unfortunate event that a mother and father choose to separate. Promoting active parental involvement in their child’s lives’ helps ensure that parents remain responsible for their children both emotionally and financially following a separation or divorce.
It is also important to know that there are situations in which legal custody should not be awarded. A few examples of this would be if the parents have an unstable relationship and are unable to effectively communicate, or if there are threats of kidnapping or domestic abuse. If this is the case, then obviously legal custody would not be deemed appropriate.
One of the reasons this is necessary is because there seems to be a statistical disparity between mothers and fathers when it comes to custodial decision-making. By administering joint legal custody this will hopefully allow both parents to play an active role in the decision making process and increase involvement from both parents.
If joint legal custody is in the best interest of the child, it can help to create a positive environment where both parents are given the chance to be involved.
Several years ago I introduced a bill that was signed into law which allows the court to require parents to utilize the mediation process prior to their court hearing. Mediation works toward helping separated and divorced spouses reach mutually agreeable terms for spending time with their children.
I believe mediation took us a step closer to ensuring the active involvement of both parents in their child’s life; my most recent proposal moves us even closer to reaching that goal. The bill also established a fund that pays for mediation for those couples who cannot afford the services.
Many of the issues that the parents differ on can be settled in mediation, even before they go to court. This helps the couple work out their own individual solutions and has proven to be very successful because it is the parents who are developing the settlement and not the court.
If any unresolved issues remain after the mediation process then they will be heard by the court and a judge will decide. Even though the mediation process has helped further develop settlements, the judge will still make final decisions on these types of issues.
The main objective should and always will be putting children first. These are all steps in the right direction in providing divorced parents with equitable voices in the decisions pertaining to their children and will in turn provide the child with a sense of family and familiarity.