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Shared parenting for dads after divorce: How common is it, really?

Only a half a century ago, sexual stereotypes dominated the mainstream cultural landscape. Gays and lesbians were in the so-called closet. Men were supposed to bring home the proverbial bacon and women were supposed to focus almost exclusively on being wives and mothers. The result was a rigid set of social norms that Betty Friedan decried as the "feminine mystique."

It's easy to think we're beyond those stereotypes now. Same-sex marriage is legal in New York and across the country. Many more mothers work outside the home - and in all types of jobs, not only as secretaries and nurses. And fathers are generally more involved in child care than they were a generation or two ago.

But how much have things really changed for dads when it comes to child custody and parenting arrangements after divorce?

Data on post-divorce parenting arrangements

In the old days, family courts normally awarded child custody to mothers, with visitation rights for fathers. Today, however, in a more gender-neutral society, there is a strong trend toward shared parenting arrangements after the parents split up. Indeed, in only the last year, nearly 20 states have considered changes to their custody laws to move toward more shared parenting after divorce or separation.

But how do post-divorce child custody arrangements really involve shared parenting? According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the answer is not as often as one might think. Nationally, one parent still gets sole custody 83 percent of the time, according to the Census Bureau.

Another indicator of relatively uncommon shared parenting is comes from a group called the National Parents Organization (NPO). The NPO issued a report card that gave the nation as a whole a 1.63 GPA on a four-point scale in promoting shared parenting.

New York law and your particular case

New York already has a gender-neutral law in place. In New York, neither parent has any automatic preference in custody arrangements. Moms aren't supposed to have any greater rights to custody than fathers. The controlling factor for the courts is supposed to be - an oft-repeated phrase - "the best interests of the child."

How this law gets implemented in your particular divorce case depends on several key factors. Your preferences are of course important, as are those of the other parent. But getting skilled legal counsel to guide you toward a post-divorce parenting plan that you and your child can live with is also important.

Sexual stereotypes may not be what they once were, but they still exert a pull. Some judges may still tend to favor moms in custody decisions. And you don't want to fall victim to those lingering limitations of the old feminine mystique.

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