February 16, 2016
By Ned Holstein, MD, MS, Founder and Acting Executive Director, National Parents Organization
Two years ago, an excellent alimony reform and shared parenting bill passed the Florida Legislature by a wide margin, but was then vetoed by Republican Governor Rick Scott (Digression: Ah, when will Republicans ever learn that their core constituency is men, including minority men, if they ever bothered to think about what minority men need that is consistent with conservative ideals, such as family and parenting — and when will Democrats ever learn that the first of them to stand up for men as well as women will be elected to office for life………)
But our movement keeps coming back. Now comes Florida SB 250 and its identical companion HB 553, bills that create a legal presumption that 50/50 time-sharing is in the best interest of the child. If judges would depart from the 50/50 presumption, they would have to provide a detailed written explanation. Strong stuff — too strong for passage in most states. But last week, the bill jumped an important hurdle when it was voted on favorably by the Rules Committee by a party-line vote of 7-4 (Republicans in favor).
The Senate bill is sponsored by Republican Tom Lee. Not surprisingly, Lee was “locked in a nearly two-year court dispute with his ex-wife to gain additional time with his children, as well as to lower his child-support payments,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. Our readers will note the little dig at the end of the sentence. Lee was quoted that with his bill, parents would “enter the courthouse on equal footing.” He went on to say that judges “do have blind spots; they have bias … and courts need direction on how to apply public policy.”
The bill is softened by a laundry list of 22 factors that judges can consider that might cause them to abandon the 50/50 presumption.
The bill has roused up the usual opponents. Most flamboyant was nurse and child support activist Cynthia Wheeler, who was ejected from a hearing of the bill a few weeks ago before the Judiciary Committee. She called Lee a “liar,” and had to be hustled away from the microphone by security. (Note to our more passionate members: screaming at the legislators and getting ejected doesn’t help your cause.) It was also opposed by a few doctors, social workers, and state Senators from the other side of the aisle. As usual, the objections did not square up with the strong research evidence that most children do best with shared parenting.