April 28, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The National Parents Organization seeks to make it two in a row in Missouri this year. Last year, NPO’s legislation passed unanimously in the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon. Our point person in the Show Me State is the excellent Linda Reutzel. Here’s what she has to say about what last year’s legislation accomplished:
- 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.
- Access motions 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.
Those were all necessary improvements to the then status quo. The maximization of parenting time was obviously the most needed change, but the ability of the non-custodial parent to obtain an easy-to-understand motion for enforcement of parenting time without resort to a lawyer was also huge. One of the main reasons non-custodial parents can’t enforce the orders that supposedly benefit them is that they have to pay a lawyer to file them and appear in court. Few of those parents can begin to afford that and, when it takes several motions and court appearances to have an effect, the process moves beyond the financial capability of most parents. The result of course is that custodial parents violate access orders with impunity. Not anymore.
This year, NPO is teaming with other organizations in an effort to finally establish a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting as statute law. Senate Bill 377 and House Bill 724 are currently before the House Judiciary Committee that held a hearing last Wednesday. Opponents - who of course were the usual suspects – didn’t put up much of a fight. A single family attorney and one person from the domestic violence establishment showed up to testify.
Interestingly, the state bar association filed a letter of “no position” on the bills. The Missouri association is mandatory for the state’s lawyers, so, by law, it’s foreclosed from lobbying the legislature. Of course many state bar associations casually ignore federal precedent and engage in lobbying anyway, but Missouri’s is that rare bird that not only knows the law, but follows it.
So proponents are optimistic that the bill will be voted out of committee.
Here’s Reutzel’s op-ed on the two bills (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4/13/17).
Today’s child custody law, which favors the antiquated breadwinner/caregiver model, is far from reflective of today’s families. Both moms and dads desire to be hands-on parents as well as career-oriented. And a growing body of research shows that children desperately need and want equal access to both parents, not the current status quo of sole custody, when their parents divorce or separate…
SB 377 and HB 724 offer a common-sense solution for all. The legislation doesn’t favor women. It’s not partial to men. Instead, it builds on the shared parenting bill that passed into law in Missouri last year — the change was a good start to showing support for shared parenting. This year’s bill goes further in supporting our children. Specifically, the bill proposes a rebuttable presumption that child custody arrangements awarding equal parenting time are in the best interest of the child, with exceptions if a parent is unfit or there has been domestic violence.
Without this legislation, the children of Missouri will continue to suffer as a result of the broken, outdated family court system. To put this into perspective, consider that, according to federal statistics, children raised by single parents are significantly at risk of dropping out of school, landing in prison, developing psychological issues and drug addiction, and committing suicide.
The bill encourages judges to act on research and help ensure children receive the consistent love and care of two parents. As just one example of the evidence in support of shared parenting, look to the 150,000-person study recently published in The Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health that showed shared parenting is in the best interest of children, particularly because of the arrangement’s benefits to children’s health, after divorce. When it comes to child custody after separation, shared parenting is the only proven solution…
With shared parenting as the starting point, we know contentious custody battles, as well as the never-ending legal fees that accompany them, wane, and the reduction in conflict and costs would allow children, parents and other family members to begin to heal from divorce as quickly as possible, rather than engage in an unnecessarily difficult and pricey battle that only stands to benefit a special interest group that historically opposes shared parenting: family law attorneys. While bitter child custody battles financially benefit divorce attorneys, shared parenting allows moms and dads to save for their children’s future rather than line lawyers’ pockets.
Well said. Missourians, please contact your state representative and senator to tell them to vote to make a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting the law in your state.
And while you’re at it, tell them to vote “aye” on two other NPO-backed bills, one of which is House Bill 323 that would end child support when the child turns 18. “Mission creep” is all too prevalent when it comes to child support, with judges being empowered to extend a non-custodial parent’s obligations long into the “child’s” adulthood.
And House Bill 707 would end lifetime alimony in the state. As I’ve argued many times before, divorce should mean the cutting of ties, not the extension of them indefinitely. Almost no one needs to be supported by the former spouse they’ve chosen to divorce and both exes are entitled to finality to the process. A person’s final act on this earth should not be the signing of yet another check made payable to the person who couldn’t be bothered to live with him for the previous 20 or 30 years.
NPO-backed bills make good common sense. They’re good for kids, parents and the judicial system. Shared parenting helps kids be better youngsters and healthier, happier, more responsible adults. Let’s make it the law in Missouri.
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.