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May 5, 2016 By Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Our National Parents Organization in Missouri reports that they’re optimistic about passage of HB 1550 sponsored by Representative Jim Neely.

HB 1550 won’t start a revolution in family law, but it makes needed changes. First, it requires judges to issue Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in any custody case in which the parents don’t agree on all aspects of custody, parenting time, etc. Judges are required to consider the need of children for “frequent, continuing and meaningful contact” with each parent. They’re also required to consider, in issuing an order of custody and parenting time, which parent is more likely to provide the other “frequent, continuing and meaningful contact” with the child.

Requiring judges to issue Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law may not sound important, but it can be. Judges don’t like to spend their time toiling over those documents and neither do lawyers. That encourages parents to agree and judges to order the requisite parenting time prescribed in the law.  More importantly, it makes the appeals process far more effective. Without written findings, appeals court judges can’t know why a trial court judge issued the order that’s on record. Since those appellate judges don’t know the facts or what the trial judge relied on, overturning an order is almost impossible. HB 1550 changes that so trial judges will be able to act with much less impunity.

Second, no judge may consider the sex of the parent in deciding custody or parenting time. That’s self-explanatory.

Third, HB 1550 makes filing a Motion for Contempt or for Family Access much easier and cheaper. Circuit clerks are required to provide simple forms for parents to use when the other has interfered with custody or parenting time. Every order issued by a judge will be required to include a notice that such a form exists and that it’s not necessary to hire a lawyer to file it. Finally, the clerk is required to publish a handbook explaining to parents the procedure for filing and arguing a motion.

This will be an important improvement. For too long, parents whose visitation has been impeded by the other parent have been faced with either hiring a lawyer (which many parents can’t afford) or figuring out a byzantine set of procedures on their own. That discourages parents from attempting to enforce visitation orders with the unsurprising result that many custodial parents feel empowered to ignore those orders.

Fourth, HB 1550 prohibits any judge from issuing a temporary order of custody without holding a hearing on the matter and giving both parents notice of said hearing. That too is a huge improvement. All too often, a parent files for divorce and gets a temporary custody order without notifying the other parent. Those temporary orders often remain in effect for months or years. The result of that is often that they become a fait accompli, simply duplicated by the final order.

Finally, if a parent interferes with another parent’s access to the child, that fact will be considered in deciding whether the interfering parents is willing – as required by the statute – to allow the other parent “frequent, continuing and meaningful contact” with the child.

NPO people in Missouri like the chances of passage and the governor’s signature on HB 1550. So far it’s passed the House and is awaiting action by the Senate.

Extra! Extra! NPO’s point person in Missouri tells us that HB1550 passed the Senate and has gone back to the House for approval of amendments. Then it’s on to the governor for signing into law! It looks like kids in the Show Me state will soon be seeing more of their non-custodial parents than in the past. Well done, NPO-Missouri!

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