February 6, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
There’s good news out of Utah today (Deseret News, 2/4/15). A very good bill that’s been pending before the House Judiciary Committee, HB35, was approved unanimously and sent to the full house for a vote.
It’s a simple bill; it allows non-custodial parents to seek more parenting time with their kids, setting the minimum number of days at 145 instead of the current 110 days per year. That would be an increase to almost 40% of parenting time from the current 30%. Crucially, social science indicates that kids need at least 35% of the time with each parent in order for the benefits of shared parenting to be realized. HB 35 would do that.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, said the legislation would give courts and divorcing parties another option for sharing time with their children if they agree to the terms and can meet certain conditions.
Under Snow's bill, noncustodial parents could seek a minimum of 145 days with their children per year, which would be an increase of the 110-day minimum currently in statute.
The bill would require noncustodial parents seeking increased parent time to demonstrate they are actively involved in their child's life and that the parties can communicate effectively about the child, among other factors.
Judges would also determine whether noncustodial parents have the ability to facilitate increased parent time, such as the ability to assist with after-school care, taking into consideration the distance between the former spouses' residences and the child's school.
Of course requiring non-custodial parents to demonstrate active involvement in a child’s life can be made impossible by any custodial parent bent on denying the extra time. A pinch of visitation denial plus a dash of parental alienation would be all it would take to produce a brew toxic enough to avoid the consequences of HB35 if it becomes law.
But that’s no reason not to pass the bill. Yes, some parents will do anything they can to deny the children to the other parent, but most don’t and a statute that permits judges to award extra time can benefit many non-custodial parents and their kids.
Now, judges in the Beehive State don’t need new legislation to give non-custodial parents more than the 110 days currently in statute law. But there’s a sort of evil genius at work whereby judges there tend to think that the 110 days currently set as the minimum time is, in some way, the maximum time allowable. How that came to pass is anyone’s guess.
Former Rep. Lorie Fowlke, a family law attorney, said members of the state Bar Association's family law section wanted to identify factors courts could consider when increased parent time would best serve the interests of children and the parties could agree to the conditions.
While 110 days of parent time is the minimum under state statute, "the joke in the industry is because we outlined the minimum schedule, it's become the maximum schedule," Fowlke said.
That may be a joke among family lawyers “in the industry”, but I can assure Fowlke it’s not one among parents or children. But if 145 days becomes the new minimum, even if judges think it’s the maximum, kids still get enough time with both parents. Not only that, HB35 would greatly assist divorcing parents who can’t afford to hire lawyers, which is to say the vast majority of them.
Providing another option in state statute is also important because half of divorcing couples represent themselves, filing their divorces online using options presented on electronic forms.
"If it's (the option presented in HB35) not in statute, it's not in the computer program," she said.
Finally, by adding more days to the non-custodial parent’s time with their kids, the bill simply and ingeniously manages to lessen conflict between parents. How?
The bill would also allow noncustodial parents to pick up their child after school on Fridays and drop them off at school on Monday mornings, which reduces contact between former spouses, Snow said.
So pick-ups and drop-offs would be accomplished with neither parent setting eyes on the other. For parents who don’t like each other, that’s a huge benefit. One of the often-made arguments against shared parenting is that, the more time the non-custodial parent has, the more interaction between parents there must be and therefore the more conflict. HB35 demonstrates not only how wrong that concept is, but how easily that interaction can be avoided. I call HB35’s approach to both increasing time and reducing angry-parent interaction little short of brilliant.
Of course some people don’t see it that way.
Some lawmakers questioned whether providing another option would increase litigation as parents returned to court to amend divorce decrees.
Fowlke said some parents, as their children age and circumstances change, return to court now.
"A lot of times, a noncustodial parent doesn’t want a fight. They just want more time. This provides a vehicle for doing this," she said.
Just because couples divorce does not mean mothers and fathers are not interested in parenting, Snow said.
With unanimous support in the Judiciary Committee, it would seem HB35 has a good chance of passing and becoming law. Let’s hope it does. It’s so simple and beneficial, it could become a template for other states across the country.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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