Two trends are having an impact on the rights of co-parents. The first is that the laws and courts of most states now prefer and encourage joint custody whenever possible. The second trend is toward equality of mothers and fathers in custody decrees. In past decades, courts generally awarded custody to mothers, but many states now forbid preference based on the gender of married parents. Almost all co-parenting decisions are now based on "the best interests of the child" [source: Lawyers.com].
Does this mean that the child's wishes are taken into account? That depends largely on the child's age and level of maturity. Young children usually have little say in the matter. However, the preferences of older children can be an important factor in awarding custody and working out other details [source: ABA Family Legal Guide].
Laws governing co-parents' rights are drawn up by the states. A lawyer can advise you about specific laws in your state. Some examples of various state laws are:
- Georgia - A child age 14 or older is allowed to select the parent he or she wants to live with.
- Ohio - The court allocates parental rights to one parent unless one or both parents request shared parenting and files a plan.
- Utah - The court assumes that the spouse who has been abandoned is entitled to custody.
- West Virginia - The parent who has been primary caretaker is usually awarded custody. The state has no provision for joint custody.
What happens if the custodial parent wants to move? If the move is to another city or state, how can the noncustodial parent maintain visitation rights? There is no easy answer to this thorny issue. Some parenting agreements detail what will happen in the event of relocation or set limits on the custodial parent's moves. Some states define a move of a specific distance to be significant. The reason for the move is also an important factor. Courts can deny permission if a move is not in the best interest of the child [source: Lawyers.com].
The rights of parties other than married parents is another factor in co-parenting. For example, what rights does an unmarried father have to his children? In most cases, courts will favor the mother if the parents never married [source: FindLaw]. Grandparents can assert visitation rights in most states and may ask for custody. The custody rights of same-sex couples is an area undergoing change and clarification in some states.
Co-parenting can be a complicated arrangement. To arm yourself with even more information, investigate the links on the following page.