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New Missouri law aims to prevent bias in child custody decisions

Old assumptions about divorce and custody are changing. For many years, courts assumed that children would live with mothers and fathers would pay child support (and often alimony). But these assumptions don't jive with many modern families.

A new Missouri law in effect since the end of August seeks to make sure child custody decisions aren't based on outdated assumptions that mothers are always caretakers and fathers always breadwinners. What assumptions should courts make instead? The legislator behind the law - Rep. Kathy Swan - told the Southeast Missourian earlier this year that the goal of the law is to make joint custody the more typical default assumption.

The law prohibits courts from presuming that "a parent, solely because of his or her sex, is more qualified than the other parent to act as a joint or sole legal or physical custodian for the child." The law also prevents local courts from adopting their own local rules or default parenting plans. The Missouri Supreme Court will be required to set guidelines all courts must follow, including ways parenting plans can maximize the amount of time a child may spent with each parent.

Most custodial parents in the nation are mothers, but 1 in 6 are fathers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a statistic that's likely to increase as old assumptions - and laws - continue to fall apart and better reflect the realities of today's families.

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