American child custody trends have changed dramatically throughout history. Until the end of the 19th century, children were considered property of their fathers. If a father wanted his children after a divorce, they were his. Fathers had the right to keep the children from their mother. By the end of the 19th century, courts started favoring the theory that children needed to be with their mothers, applying the “tender years” doctrine. Basically the doctrine was that a child under the age of five should be with their mother. In the 70’s, courts started receiving challenges that the “tender years” doctrine discriminated against fathers.

Today, all but five states mandate that courts treat both parents equally when deciding who gets custody of children. Still, courts often will award primary custody to one parent, even when both parents are equally qualified to raise their children. Ned Holstein, the head of the National Parents Organization, says, “We believe family courts are actively hurting kids.” According to Mr. Holstein, research shows children do better emotionally and academically when both parents have an active part in their lives. As times have changed, fathers have become more active in raising their children but some courts and judges still give mothers primary custody of children regardless. Lawmakers in several states, Florida included, are pushing for measures that favor more equally shared custody.

Courts are expecting parents to endure a bit of inconvenience to ensure that the child’s best interests are being met. This may mean one parent has to drive farther to take the child to school, and it may mean divorced parents have to see each other more often than they would like, but in most cases, joint custody is what is best for the children. More courts and state legislators are realizing this, and child custody trends are changing once again.

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