Will shared parenting be the new norm for people divorcing in Maryland?

Just a few decades ago, it was not uncommon for divorcing mothers in Annapolis to receive primary custody of their children. Today, decisions regarding child custody and visitation rights are much less predictable. It's become more common for parents and lawmakers to support arrangements that divide responsibility and time more evenly between parents. Depending on the results of an ongoing commission, Maryland may follow other states in formalizing a preference for shared parenting arrangements.

Evolving social norms

Across the country, many states are considering laws that favor shared parenting models, according to USA Today. This may be due to changing social norms and the recent tendency of laws to increase the rights of custodial parents, which may leave noncustodial parents feeling like they have been stripped of their parental rights.

USA Today reports that polls show many Americans favor shared custody. Limited research suggests such arrangements are becoming more common, as well. For instance, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study found that, from 1986 to 2008, state divorces in which mothers received sole custody fell from 80 percent to 40 percent, according to a study press release. The proportion of divorces that resulted in shared custody grew from 5 percent to 27 percent.

These findings could be unique to the state, but researchers believe they reflect broader patterns. The fact that many states are considering more equitable custody laws supports this theory. Many states have considered bills to mandate minimum amounts of parenting time or favor equal custody, with exceptions for domestic violence and other unusual circumstances.

In Minnesota, for example, each parent is entitled to at least 25 percent of parenting time; in 2012, one measure would have boosted this minimum to 35 percent. In the past, proposals in South Dakota have called for a presumption that a 50-50 division of custody is ideal for children. Such changes could soon be implemented or at least considered in Maryland as well.

Maryland custody arrangements

In 2013, the Maryland General Assembly authorized a Commission on Child Custody Decision Making. According to materials on the Maryland State Archives website, the commission is studying ways to do the following things:

  • Produce more regular and equitable custody arrangements
  • Make child custody divorce disputes less contentious or litigious
  • Foster ongoing relationships between children and both parents
  • Ensure that each parent is as involved in the child's life as possible

The commission will also examine the statutes observed in other states to determine whether Maryland would benefit from a specific statute on custody arrangements. Finally, the commission will examine the way issues such as gender discrimination and domestic violence play into custody determinations.

The Commission's final report to the General Assembly and governor will be made on Dec. 1. If the commission follows the patterns observed in other states, it may recommend changes that promote more equal custody arrangements.

Shared custody can offer many benefits for children and parents alike, but it may not be the ideal solution in every situation. Anyone who is preparing for a divorce in Maryland should meet with an attorney to discuss possible arrangements and determine which one would be in the best interests of the child.