September 23, 2019 by Linda Reutzel, Member, National Board of Directors
Kentucky’s monumental passage of the Shared-Parenting bill last year has been deemed the most “popular” vote in the state. According to an August 30, 2019 opinion piece in Kentucky’s Courier-Journal, the Administrative Office of the Courts has issued a report that shows a reduction in domestic court cases by 11% and a reduction of 445 cases of domestic violence since the full law took effect. Missouri, the Show-Me state, has clearly been shown.
Two key and influential Missouri state lawmakers, Senator Wayne Wallingford and Representative Kathy Swan are continuing to rise to the challenge in making effective change on this issue here at home. They will kick-off a viewing of the powerful and gripping documentary “Erasing Family,” in Cape Girardeau in October 2019. The documentary explores trauma experienced by children when a loving, fit parent is erased from their lives due to separation and divorce. This launch of the documentary in Missouri is fittingly in their corner of the state. Additional screenings will continue as the documentary goes on the road.
More and more Missouri elected officials are turning their attention to the critical and frequently intertwined issues of social justice and criminal justice and this provides every opportunity for the legislation that these lawmakers will file again in the 2020 session to be a top priority in the Missouri Assembly. The policy change simply starts with a premise that there are two fit parents, provides a judge with discretion to determine otherwise, and additionally, provides a built-in mechanism for a rebuttable presumption
Some progress has been made. In 2016 Missouri passed a law that requires written findings of facts and conclusions be submitted in all contested cases. The law also created an access motion form that can be filed by a parent without the cost of an attorney, which helps the parent who cannot afford a court case. Another important provision in the law is that no court can adopt local rules or a default parenting plan. Along with these changes, a new guideline book is required to be printed with the policy of all parties maximizing shared parenting opportunities.
Given this positive movement on the issues, National Parents Organization has an overall Grade for the state of a C+. However, Missouri families deserve to have an A+. The Wallingford-Swan legislation would create a uniform law that looks at both parents as equals. This change reduces conflict and mitigates the real-world situations where what lawyer you have, or how much money you have in the bank, or even what judge you get, are factors that can tip the scales and rip a child and a fit parent apart.
Clearly it is difficult to change a section of family law. Conflict and strife pay attorneys their fees and lawyers sure pay attention to legislation. However, stagnation on this issue is hurting families. The bias in the law is overdue for a correction.
Strong relationships with family and extended family give children a sense of innate security and connectedness that is of the utmost importance to their well-being. Regardless of the hysterical rhetoric masking the dollars attorneys bank, it is simply not good enough for the status quo to remain. Changing the law will require an act of courage from the Missouri Assembly. Courage is something that the two bill sponsors, Rep. Wayne Wallingford and Rep. Kathy Swan, do not lack.