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More than one in four fathers in the United States who have children 18 or younger now lives apart from their children, according to Pew. 

A movement is growing toward shared parenting or at least collegial “co-parenting” that recognizes the importance of having two parents in children's lives. And in states like Virginia and Kentucky, legislation was recently passed to encourage joint custody.

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Bretta Z. Lewis has seen her share of custody cases in 18 years as a family law attorney.

Some of her clients think the courts favor mothers over fathers. Some mothers think their chances of getting custody are slim because they don’t make enough money.

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Host Kristi Slaughter interviews National Parents Organization of Virginia's Christian Paasch on the shared parenting bill that will become law in Virginia.

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Further, Kentucky politicians’ pride for being the only shared parenting state probably will be very short-lived. Many states are considering strengthening their joint custody laws. In fact, Alabama and Iowa’s Senates have both already passed this year stronger shared parenting bills than Kentucky’s landmark law. Kentucky’s law excludes parents who are found unfit based on a “preponderance of evidence.” In other words, the court will not award a parent joint custody if it believes there is a 51 percent or greater chance the parent is unfit. The Alabama and Iowa (and soon many others I’m sure) bills award shared parenting unless the court believes the parent is unfit based on “clear and convincing evidence,” which is much higher.

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The Bluegrass state's law will help children nationwide in several ways. First, new shared parenting bills will be easier to pass elsewhere now that the precedent is set. Kentucky's law will also touch other states as military parents flow to and from the state.

Our country's military families serving at Fort Knox and Fort Campbell will be among the first to benefit. Interracial children will benefit too. "African Americans are more likely to be treated unfairly in family court. The new shared parenting law will give minority parents and children fairer legal outcomes," said Jason Griffith, the Kentucky National Parents Organization's Minority Outreach Director.

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Mothers are a critical part of our American society and of families. Importantly though, as a society, we must recognize that women and men together are indispensable partners to our country’s most valuable treasure: our children. We need to celebrate our children’s parents — both of them — as often as possible.

Still, in this modern era, people are often surprised to learn just how often courts operate with 1950s assumptions and routinely favor one parent over the other in instances of divorce or separation. Astonishingly, sole custody is awarded to one parent about 83 percent of the time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, thus creating a confrontational dynamic of winner and loser/visitor.

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Sometimes we shared-parenting advocates get the bad rap of being anti-mother. That is so far from the truth.

I’m actually a mother and grandmother, my 94-year-old mother is still living, and I have a daughter who I want to be happy and healthy. Motherhood is a blessing to me, and I will readily admit that the challenges of work and nurturing children at home are hard to handle all the time. Of course, that’s the beauty of shared parenting, sharing those responsibilities.

I have met so many women in the Missouri movement toward shared parenting after divorce who are mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers and aunts. This movement couldn’t have had the success its had without women stepping up to the plate. This played a big part in passing into law a bill supportive of shared parenting in 2016, and this year, a proposal seeking to strengthen that law (HB 1667) passed the House and will be heard on the Senate floor any day now. 

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For decades, it was a woman’s job to raise kids and a man’s job to pay for them. Our family courts are still forcing those gender roles on people, even when they divorce or separate.

We still see courts making mothers the primary custodians over 80 percent of the time. It’s still a woman’s job to raise the kids, married or not. The same courts send fathers the bills. It’s still the man’s job to pay.

Things are quickly changing. A light of hope arose this week in a surprising place. On April 26, Gov. Matt Bevin signed a new child custody law (House Bill 528) that was initiated by the National Parents Organization. The bill passed both chambers of the state legislature overwhelmingly. Republicans and Democrats spoke with one voice, stating that children deserve the best chance in life, and that means equal access to both parents.

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The state of Kansas’ new Child Support Evaders program functions as a “most wanted″ of those who are behind on their child support payments: the names and faces of parents deemed the worst offenders have their faces and names posted online, complete with the amount they owe, their last known location and contact information.

This is a solution for families, says Gov. Jeff Colyer. But look closer, and the opposite is true — this program hurts, not helps, Kansas families.

This is detrimental to children and parents for many reasons. 

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