As Bob Dylan once expertly quoted, “The times are a-changing”. This is definitely the case with many aspects of our lives today, especially within the legal world. Recently, there have been some major elements and adjustments in our lives that have led to significant changes within legal proceedings in Family Law. There are three large factors that have altered how we look at child custody and child support law.
#1: Advancements in Technology
Since computers and tech took over our culture in the early 80’s, we have found that our daily lives have been altered and even guided by said technology. And as it’s a part of our day-to-day, it’s predictable that this technology has made its way into the courtroom for child custody cases.
An example is Email Communication. Because of our frequent use of email correspondence in our professional and personal lives, the court systems have decided to rule that email correspondence can be legally admitted into discovery in a child support case.
Similarly, because of the rise in popularity of Social Media in our lives, we have found Facebook, Instagram and even Tinder have been used in divorce law. Quoting from Orangecountydivorce.com’s recent piece about divorce technology: the social media “circumstantial evidence is sufficient and often used to prove adultery” in such a divorce and/or child custody case.
Another big technological element has been the introduction of Virtual Visitation, or the use of video chat, instant messaging, and programs like Skype or Facetime, as a channel for granted visitation rights in a child custody proceeding. Not only is this technology great for parents in the armed forces and those that have to travel frequently, but since the first Virtual Visitation law was passed in Utah in 2004, it has become a new, legal way that a parent can be granted virtual visitation sessions with their children, even if they weren’t allotted granted full, in-person vitiation rights.
#2: Reweighing the Gender Balances
As our culture grows and continues to evolve, our society has changed the way we look at families and parental roles as well. The first factor is the rise in women and mothers in the workforce full-time. Recent statistics from the Department of Labor show that 57% of women today are in the workforce. Also, another statistic is that 70% of females with children under 18 are in the workforce.
These stats are testament to the fact that men are playing a much larger role with their children and family role, and further demonstrate that we have traversed from the standard “traditional” 1900’s family role of the female housewife.
We have seen increases in the father’s involvement with the children’s upbringing and household care. And with this fluctuation came the demand for Shared Parenting – or a more equal division of parental responsibilities and in turn a more balanced share of parental rights. The concept of Shared Parenting and custody reform of this nature has been pushed onto legislation by many fathers in Massachusetts and many other places. According to a recent Boston Globe article, approximately 20 states are considering measures that move toward more equal custody arrangements for parents following divorce or separation.
On one side, it’s viewed that Shared Parenting will help minimize custody battles and thus shorten child custody proceedings. However, the contrary belief is that child visitation rights should be handled on a case-by-case basis, as “guaranteed visitation” rights wouldn’t be just in some instances, like domestic violence cases for example. Ultimately, it will be up to each states’ governments to choose how they would like to stand on the matter.
#3: Changes in Family Dynamics
Another changing development is the rise of same-sex marriages and partnerships. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2004, and other states soon followed suit. And in some of these states, a lot of these same-sex partners were granted the right to adopt children or utilize in-vitro conception to grow their families. And through each method, they would secure the adoption legally through means known as “Second Parent Adoptions”, in the case of the second partner with an in-vitro birth, or even a child from a previous marriage or domestic partnership.
As human nature goes, and same-sex marriage statistics caught up with heterosexual marriages, we saw the rise of same-sex couple divorces. Some studies have shown that same sex divorce rates are currently lower than opposite sex divorces, but they are increasing nonetheless.
With the rise of joint adoptions for one child, this led to legal questions about the distribution of child custody rights in a divorce. And the big question revolves around how much custody rights the “second parent” has versus the initial parent. According to a Family.Findlaw.com article: “Some courts have seen the laws as softer and more flexible, often allowing a second parent court-ordered visitation time after a finding that the second parent has played an integral role in the child’s life.” And as these divorce statistics continue to rise with the increase in same-sex marriages, the family law courts will have to make more legislation changes to assist with these proceedings.
As technology, cultural status quo, and our society in general continues to transform, we will see more and more elements being introduced into the law. And the legal system that our children will have will assumingly be much different than the one that we have today! So, when one finds themselves in legal battles such as divorce, child custody or child support, it is very important to have good legal representation on your side. Not only is it good to have an attorney on your side that understands the traditional laws, but it is essential to use a family law or child custody lawyer that is in tune with the latest developments in law, and is able to defend their clients successfully in the courtrooms of the future.
This article has been provided courtesy of Darryl Blank. He is a contributor and a law marketer for Wilkinson & Finkbeiner in Massachusetts. They are experienced family law attorneys located in both Boston and New Bedford, MA and handle family law in the areas of divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenups, spousal support, property division and more.