August 5, 2016
By Ned Holstein, MD, MS Founder and Chair of the Board, National Parents Organization
Three years ago, Linda Reutzel, Chair of the National Parents Organization chapter of Missouri, decided to take matters into her own hands. Her son had received the usual treatment in family court, and Linda was rarely able to see her own grandchild. So she decided to get the custody law changed.
Now, three years later, she can point with pride to the near-unanimous passage of a strong shared parenting law in Missouri, which was signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon a few weeks ago!
“As a mother and grandmother, all I wanted to do was convince our legislature that Family Courts across this State are hurting children of divorce. And really, I found lots of sympathetic officials (you can tell by the almost unanimous vote), but not many who would stick their necks out against the MO Bar. Bar associations have a lot of power in State houses all across the country. But we continued to walk the halls of the Capitol and work on relationships with reps and their staff…. When our original bills were stuck in committee and I realized that we had no power to get them out, it was pretty depressing. It was depressing because I have personally met fathers that want more time with their children; these fathers feel kicked in the gut; they cannot understand why a judge would deny access to a willing parent. I know that law making can be messy and you have to play the game, but there are real families that are being destroyed by the decisions that a judge makes. I wish these judges could actually see all the chaos and hurt caused by making one parent a visitor in their own child's life.”
Linda has a few tips to offer those who are fighting for shared parenting in their states:
“It's also very important to talk with Floor Leaders, Senate Pro Temp, Speaker of the House and really anyone in a leadership role. Another key to pushing your issue is knowing your issue backwards and forwards. Shared Parenting is an issue that is easy to defend but you have to have the facts.“
Here are the highlights of the new law:
- It states that no court shall adopt any local rules, forms or default parenting plans.
- Written findings of facts and conclusions must be prepared so that all know exactly why certain decisions were made.
- Motions to see one’s children must be explained, made readily available and do not require legal counsel.
- The court shall not presume that a parent is more qualified solely based on his or her sex.
- The State Courts Administrator shall develop parenting plan guidelines that maximize to the highest degree the amount of time the child may spend with each parent.
These reforms were needed to bring accountability to Family Courts. Linda knows we will need to watch what the State Courts Administrator does, as well as the lawyers and judges, but everyone knows what the intent of this bill is -- to make shared parenting the norm for children of divorce in Missouri.
As she says,
“The rubber stamping of parenting plans must stop; the old model of the loser parent being the visitor must stop; the adversarial nature of custody must stop; the spending of every last dime a parent has, just to get one more day with their child, must stop. HB 1550 is not perfect, but the intent to encourage shared parenting is there for all to see. I just hope that judges take this as a mandate to give children what they need and want- BOTH PARENTS!”
The almost unanimous vote in favor of this bill is a mandate for Family Courts across Missouri to start doing what is in the best interest of children. Common sense and research tell us children need and want equal access to both fit and willing parents. Children deserve great relationships with both parents. No fit parent should be considered a loser when it comes to parenting their children and no child should be denied access to their fit and willing parent.
Linda expresses her thanks to those who have made the new law possible:
“Thanks to all Missouri legislators and to Governor Nixon for doing what is best for children of divorce. Special thanks to the bill's sponsor, Representative Jim Neely. Without his behind-the-scenes work this would not have happened. Also thanks to Representative Kathryn Swan and to Senator Wayne Wallingford, who sponsored the original bills that were stuck in committees. They did some great behind-the-scenes work themselves. Thanks to Senator Sater also, for bringing the bills before the committee he chairs and allowing witnesses to give their horror stories from Family Court. These stories were very powerful and firsthand accounts of the problems within our Family Courts in Missouri.”
All in all, 2016 was a great year for the children, the parents and society at large of Missouri!