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How to Pass Shared Parenting Legislation in Your State

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November 10, 2015

NPO Logo National Parents Organization improves the lives of children and strengthens society by protecting every child's right to the love and care of both parents after separation or divorce. We seek better lives for children through family court reform that establishes equal rights and responsibilities for fathers and mothers.
Shared Parenting Legislation: the Minnesota and Massachusetts Stories
By Ned Holstein, MD, MS, Founder and Acting Executive Director, National Parents Organization
On August 1, 2015, a new and better custody statute went into effect in Minnesota. This was due in large measure to the tireless efforts of activists Molly Olson and Brian Ulrich of the Center for Parental Responsibility (CPR). The story of how this came to pass is a long and interesting one, and may hold lessons for you in your state.

Brian recalls that at one point, a known opposing legislator “turned around and took the stairs instead of getting in the elevator with us.” At another time, he felt, “You’re just wasting your time. We were so entirely opposed. I had seen the lobbying. I had seen the emotions of the presentations at the committee hearings, the unpleasant glances, the unwillingness to sit down and talk before that. It was just a recipe for failure.” Yet not long after, the vote in favor of a better custody bill was 121-0 in the House, and 61-3 in the Minnesota Senate.

Back in 2012, after many years of tireless lobbying that had not borne fruit, and after beginning to feel that the efforts were futile, CPR advocated a bill that would have required judges to presume a nearly equal split of parenting time, unless there had been serious domestic abuse. This encountered stiff opposition in the Minnesota Senate. Eventually, a compromise was reached, which lowered the presumptive minimum parenting time to 35%. This compromise passed the full Minnesota Legislature, and Molly and Brian had reason to believe their years of lobbying had finally paid off.

In a devastating setback, however, Governor Mark Dayton vetoed the legislation in May, 2012, calling on opposing groups to work together — even though that is what they had already been doing.

Many would have given up at that point.  In fact, Molly and Brian were reluctant to join a “dialogue group" put together six months later by a former family court judge, fearing it would be just another waste of time. The group would consist of the “usual suspects,” such as lawyers, judges, domestic violence workers, custody evaluators, family therapists, and activists, among others. The work of this group would be facilitated by a professional mediator. After long consideration, Molly and Brian and their supporters overcame their skepticism and went back to work.

For the next 2½ years, the group traded opposing positions and arguments. On many occasions, it seemed that the differences were insurmountable. The help of the professional mediator was critical to overcoming these impasses. Brian says, “I don’t know what kind of pixie dust she threw in the room. At times when it appeared we were heading into a nosedive, her process allowed us to pull out of it and reach even greater heights than before.”

Still, after two full years (2013 and 2014), Brian and Molly were yet to be convinced. Brian recalls, “Despite the trust and the goodwill that clearly existed by that point, in December 2014 I thought it might all still collapse, because we still hadn’t gotten to the core issue of parenting time.” Read more...

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Massachusetts’ Shared Parenting Story
By Ned Holstein, MD, MS, Founder and Acting Executive Director, National Parents Organization
The story in Massachusetts has both similarities and differences from the story in Minnesota. Like Minnesota, the story has lessons for anyone who wants to pass shared parenting legislation in their state.

Like Minnesota, the Massachusetts story began almost 15 years ago, when National Parents Organization (then known as Fathers and Families) filed a shared parenting bill in the Legislature. It was carefully drafted by lobbyists we had hired. They had studied both the custody statute and the case law (higher court decisions), spoken to key legislators, and produced a bill that was acceptable to us and that might stand a chance of passage. In my view, having a professionally-crafted bill was a very good move for our long-term credibility. The bill would have required a judge to give written findings of fact and conclusions of law if he/she ordered something other than joint physical and joint legal custody.

This didn’t seem like a big deal — after all, if a judge is going to reduce a fit and loving parent to the status of a visitor, would it be too much to require that the judge at least write down the reasons for the “parentectomy?” Too much to ask that there actually should BE some good reason?

The lobbyists were not cheap, but it seemed worthwhile, as they were able to provide us shrewd advice, and with quick access to almost any legislator we wanted to talk to. They all seemed earnest, sympathetic and eager to help — up to a point. And with the help of our lobbyists, we were able to sign up many co-sponsors for our bill, at one point about a quarter of the Legislature.

At a certain point, a legislative hearing was held on the bill by the Judiciary Committee, together with about 50 other bills. We received only about 10 days notice of the hearing, which made it tough to get people to attend a long hearing in downtown Boston during working hours. Without lobbyists, we would not have known about the hearing at all, since the notice was not distributed widely. I have come to feel the late, insider notice was perhaps purposeful, to keep down the number of people who would testify.

And the legislators gave no hint of what order they would hear testimony on the various bills, so it was not possible for people to leave the crowded and hot hearing room and come back several hours later when our bill would be heard. Perhaps also on purpose, in my view.

About 30 of our members, whom we had briefed on how to testify, spoke eloquently, and from the heart. And we submitted carefully drafted written testimony that, we thought, answered all reasonable objections to the bill.

We then sat through a long parade of witnesses who testified against the bill on all sorts of false grounds — that it would put battered women at risk, that it destroyed the venerable “best interest of the child” standard, that it would be too demanding for children to go back and forth between two parents, that it was about parental needs, not children’s needs, etc etc. Read more...

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> Share Your Story:

Members share stories of their children and families.
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Many forms and documents are common to many cases in your state or even across the United States.

Establish an Affiliation in Your State

National Parents Organization is working to build a strong affiliate in every state. What will it take to bring National Parents Organization to your state? Leadership. It takes a team of volunteers to organize in your state and to reach out to legislators, media, and other groups who will work with us to make shared parenting the norm.

If you are ready, please contact Ned Holstein, National Interim Executive Director. Together we can build an affiliate in your state.

 
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“There is nothing more meaningful that we can do to ensure that our children will flourish than to protect their relationship with both parents. The National Parents Organization focuses on significant, practical changes to family law that will protect every child's right to the full, loving involvement of fit parents. The National Parents Organization offers the opportunity to be effective in making changes that will protect the parent-child relationship when parents live apart.”

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The opinions expressed herein are those of our guest authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Parents Organization or its Board of Directors.
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