Shared parenting is an arrangement in divorce where two parents share decision making and residential custody of their children on an equal basis.
In May, 2013, legislation was introduced in New York, but never passed, which attempted to make shared parenting the law in New York as a matter of public policy. The legislation declared that “it is the public policy of the State [of New York] to assure minor children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage and that it is in the public interest to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of childrearing in order to effectuate this policy.” The legislation further stated that “The provisions of this [legislation] establish a presumption…that shared parenting is in the best interests of minor children.”
Under the proposed law, shared parenting would be ordered in divorce and family court cases by default and, if either parent sought sole custody, he or she would have to prove by evidence that shared parenting would not be in the best interests of the children. The proposed law is supported by fathers’ rights groups who assert that there is gender bias in the courts when they decide custody matters in favor of mothers. The proposed law is opposed by women’s’ rights groups who assert that the law is inappropriate in high conflict divorce cases and that husbands may use the children to control their former wives and girlfriends.
Recently, New York judges have begun awarding equal parenting time to both parents, a trend that is only likely to continue. Ultimately, whether such legislation is in fact in the best interests of the children will likely be disputed for many years to come.
Until that day arrives, fathers seeking equal or near equal parenting time should be able to demonstrate to the court a high level of involvement in their children’s lives.
This includes activities such as providing proper care for them, feeding, bathing and changing their diapers as infants, reading to them before bedtime, cooking them dinner, putting them to bed, reading to them at night, waking up in the middle of the night to care for them, preparing them breakfast in the morning, getting them ready for school, helping them with their homework, attending parent teacher conferences, attending school shows and graduations, attending doctors visits, participating in much of the children’s sports and extracurricular activities, planning and attending family events and birthday parties, spending the holidays with them, travelling with them on vacation, taking them to special events, taking them to the park, the zoo, the aquarium and museums, and otherwise fulfilling all of the duties and obligations of a parent.
Conversely, fathers seeking equal or near equal parenting time should be also aware that if they have had little parental involvement with the children and have performed few of the duties or obligations of a parent, they can expect to be awarded substantially less parenting time by the court.