January 8, 2019 by Linda Reutzel, Chair, National Parents Organization Missouri Chapter and Member, National Board of Directors
When the bell rings on opening day this Wednesday, January 9, 2019, in the Missouri Assembly, companion shared parenting bills, HB 229 sponsored by Representative Kathy Swan and SB 14 sponsored by Senator Wayne Wallingford, will be ready for legislative action. The legislative language in these bills has been vetted in previous sessions and so these bills are ready for passage. State advocates of shared parenting are ready to help advance the interests of children and parents in Missouri by informing state officials about the importance of getting these bills across the finish line and signed into law. Rebuttable presumption of equal parenting is not mandatory and judges have discretion in circumstances where exceptions exist or it would be dangerous for the child. It simply means that for fit and willing parents who want equal time with their children, it should be allowed and encouraged.
All research points to equal parenting time after divorce or separation as a common sense policy that is in the best interest of children and families. Sharing the parenting after a divorce reduces conflict and helps children have a sense of stability in their lives which most parents would agree is important. This means less stress on children, reduced litigation costs and frees up court docket time. While there is broad agreement that an intact family is part of the American dream, burying our heads in the sand when it comes to parenting laws after divorce is no solution. Equal shared parenting is best for children of divorce.
Rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting is a necessary and simple change to our statutes. After all, when it comes to parenting our children, it should not matter which county you live in, which judge you get, your lawyer's talents or how much money you have in the bank. The current adversarial system of deciding custody and the entrenched institutional gender bias encourages fighting and treats parenting time as a winner-take-all proposition. With our current system, children are the losers. Children deserve the opportunity to have great relationships with both parents and extended family, regardless of how the adults' feel about each other. And great relationships can only happen with time spent together. Both parents should be able to tuck their children into bed; help them with homework through the week; fix meals with them; have after school conversations with them; in essence, share the parenting.
Shared parenting has never been easier to accomplish in everyday life. In our electronic age, there is the possibility that acrimonious exes would not have to see one another. One parent drops off at school and the other picks up after school. Simple really. Children don't have to see the tension between their parents.
Children with equal access to both parents are helped on many levels. For instance, education reform is a priority for this session. Key to any reform is recognizing that the child's environment out of school contributes to their ability to perform during the school day. Statistics show children who have solid relationships with both parents have less behavior disorders. They are less likely to use drugs, commit suicide, drop out of school or runaway. Shared parenting goes hand in hand with improving educational opportunities for Missouri's children.
With the educational benefits, research all pointing to equal parenting time, and polling in Missouri that indicates Missourians overwhelmingly agree with shared parenting, this should be the year that we start giving children what they need and want....both parents. This change will benefit children, parents, schools and communities. It is the right thing to do.