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Joint custody is on the rise, but is it right for you?

For parents in Colorado, creating a child custody agreement is often the hardest part of divorce. You want to make sure that your child's best interests are at the center of the agreement, but you and your ex might disagree about what that means. Increasingly, families are deciding that joint custody agreements are best for their kids.

In the recent past, judges awarded mothers primary custody the vast majority of the time. This left many fathers feeling more like babysitters or visitors in their children's lives. While joint custody is not yet the standard, courts are increasingly acknowledging the role that fathers play in fostering their children's well-being.

Joint legal custody and physical custody

In general, family law courts start with the assumption that parents will share joint legal custody of their children. This gives both parents the legal right to make important decisions regarding their children's lives and upbringing. Legal custody encompasses decisions about things like medical care, schooling and religious upbringing.

Physical custody is a different matter. While courts are generally open to considering shared physical custody, judges tend to have concerns about the impact of children moving between households on school nights.

Fathers are important

In 1980, courts awarded mothers sole custody in 80 percent of all divorces. That same year, shared physical custody accounted for only 5 percent of child custody cases. Fast forward to 2014 and shared custody arrangements rose to 27 percent. Courts awarded mothers sole custody only 42 percent of the time. Unequal shared custody also grew in popularity, increasing from 3 to 18 percent between 1980 and 2014.

These changing figures reflect a bigger change in society's attitude towards child rearing. In the 1980s, courts channeled the prevailing attitude of the time, which was that mothers cared better for children. Most people now acknowledge the important role that fathers play in the lives of their children. There are also concerns regarding fathers' mental health, particularly when they are involved in divorces initiated by their wives and also lose access to their children.

Courts are not always involved

Another reason for the shift towards joint custody is that more and more parents are resolving these matters on their own. Pretrial negotiation and mediation give divorcing parents the opportunity to resolve matters such as custody, property division and more on their own. These agreements are usually more amicable than leaving things up to a judge who has the facts of the case but might not understand a family's emotional nuance.

Joint custody works great for some families in Colorado, but it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. If you are hoping for joint custody, you and your ex should carefully consider whether this type of arrangement is in your child's best interests. Since doing this can be difficult in the middle of an emotionally charged divorce, you may want to consider seeking guidance from an experienced attorney.

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