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50-50: A Proposal That Could Shake Up Custody Cases

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A state lawmaker wants to change the way custody is doled out in Illinois, focusing on parents first instead of the children.

Experts say divorce and custody battles often hit children the hardest. Right now Illinois law requires family court judges to put children's best interests first when deciding parenting arrangements, but Democratic state representative and Chicago mayoral candidate La Shawn Ford calls it unfair.

"It's always sort of lopsided," Ford said. "One parent goes in with an advantage over another."

He's proposing an equal parenting law, House Bill 185, which would require judges to give each parent 50 percent custody from the beginning.

"Courts should not get in the way of children having to fit parents in their life," Ford said.

Critics say this would not do that.

"You can't have a one size fits all 50-50 presumption," said acting Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert. "You have to look at every family as a unique family, focused like a laser beam on the children."

Golbert's office is just one of more than six dozen groups and associations opposed to the change. Among them are domestic violence agencies.

"Any parent would have to litigate to change the 50-50 split," said victims' advocate Carol Gall.

Gall and other advocates say that's not only costly, but also potentially dangerous, with victims spending more time in court around an abuser.

"Where they're trying to kind of pick up the pieces of their life and move forward in a healthy and safe way, and now they have to overcome yet another obstacle and another challenge to their safety," Gall said.

"It also puts whichever parent has fewer resources for lawyers at a disadvantage," Golbert said.

Ford dismisses those concerns, saying bar associations oppose it because it would hurt lawyers' bottom lines. He denies it's a fathers' rights move, insisting children's best interests would be preserved.

"It's not going to just happen because a mother comes in and say, 'I want 50-50,' or a father comes in," Ford said. "We still have to prove the fitness of each parent."

Ford says about 30 states have proposed similar legislation.

There will be a hearing on the bill Thursday.

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