A bill is pending in the Tennessee legislature to equally divide parenting time. Janell Ross reports in the Tennessean that the bill would require children to spend one half of their time with each parent in a contested divorce case if the parents could not otherwise agree. If the bill passes, it would certainly put Tennessee on the forefront of this issue and make it one of, if not the, most gender-neutral states when it comes to child custody. The bill has put judges and women's groups at odds with fathers' groups who support the bill.
Neither Kentucky nor Illinois (the two states in which I practice) have such a statute. However, the courts will generally allow such a time sharing arrangement if the parties agree to it. In my experience a 50/50 time sharing arrangement can work, but there is no guarantee that it will work. Generally, in the cases in which I have seen an equal time sharing arrangement work, the parties have had a better than average relationship in spite of their separation, they present a united front on rules for the children, they have lived close to one another, and both parents were committed to putting the child's needs first. In the instances where 50/50 has worked, it has worked very well. However, not all judges in our area agree.
While most judges will approve a 50/50 time sharing arrangement if the parties agree, most also will not order such an arrangement after a contested hearing. Indeed, at least two local judges that I have routinely practiced in front of have told me in no uncertain terms that they do not approve of a 50/50 time sharing arrangement. They do not believe it to be in the children's best interest and is not stable enough especially for young children. Other judges will order a 50/50 split up until a child reaches school age in certain situations.
If you are pursuing an argument for a court to grant shared custody, the court will most likely base its decision on a number of factors. These factors include, but are not limited to:
1. The age and maturity of the children.
2. Whether the child is in school.
3. The closeness of the parent's respective residence.
4. The child's preference (if the child is old enough or mature enough to provide a preference).
5. Any disruptive effect on the child.
6. The reasonableness of the time period that the child spends with each parent.
7. The relationship between the period that the child spends with each parent.
8. The parents' attitudes towards each other and how the child will interpret these.
Also be aware, that the courts are keen to spot situations in which a parent is demanding shared custody primarily to avoid or reduce a child support obligation. Before assuming you should be granted 50/50 custody discuss the possible outcomes and likelihood with your attorney before you waste a lot of money on attorney's fees. Additionally, as with anything in your divorce, do some soul-searching and make sure that what you want truly is in the best interests of your children.