Pursuant to caselaw, a parent who sought to achieve a 50/50 parenting time schedule, following the issuance of a divorce decree granting them less, had to demonstrate the child’s home environment with the other parent endangered their physical or emotional health. Proving endangerment is one of the most difficult things to do in family court.
The new legislation, regardless of whether a parent has sole physical custody or joint physical custody, provides that a parent, so long as a child’s primary residence does not change, need only demonstrate that the child’s “best interests” are served by the modification – if the parent seeking modification wishes to exercise between 45% and 55% of the available time with a child.
“Best interest” is a much easier hurdle to overcome than “endangerment;” up to 17 different factors play a role in the analysis. One such factor involves the wishes of a child, if that child is of suitable age and maturity. The older the child, the more weight the court will afford that preference.
Accordingly, it has become much easier to secure an equal access schedule with a child who is a bit older, and wishes to do so.
A very common scenario involves a young teen who has lived primarily with one parent and, as they age, now seeks to divide time among two households. This new legislation makes the child’s desired outcome much more likely.
Keep in mind, the custody label is not referenced anywhere in the amended statute. Accordingly, even if a parent does not have “physical custody” by label, they can seek to modify the schedule to a 50/50 split without worrying about endangerment (drug use by the other parent, neglect, assaultive conduct, etc.) in the other parent’s home.
This new legislation seems like a step in the direction of a joint physical custody presumption. More to come, this session.