June 16, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The National Parents Organization is supporting a shared parenting bill currently before the House Judiciary Committee of the Michigan Legislature. The inside scoop is that committee members generally favor the bill, but NPO wants to make sure it gets voted out of committee and onto the House floor. So everyone in Michigan should contact all member of the committee and urge them to vote ‘aye’ on HB 4691.

The bill has some very strong aspects to it. Most importantly, it establishes a presumption of shared parenting (both legal and physical) that means neither parent is to have more than 200 days per year (about 55%) with the child. The usual exceptions of course apply – a different agreement by the parents, domestic violence, child abuse and unfitness.

All of that is legislatively recognized to promote the best interests of the child that’s defined as two things. First,

MAINTAINING AN ONGOING RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH PARENT AND THE RIGHT OF THE CHILD TO A SUBSTANTIALLY EQUAL PARENTING TIME ARRANGEMENT THAT PROMOTES A STRONG RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A CHILD AND HIS OR HER PARENTS.

The second part of the definition includes items like the love and affection existing between the child and the parent, the history of parent-child contact and the potential impact of reducing that contact, the ability of the parents to provide for the emotional and social development of the child, etc.

Importantly, the definition of the best interests of the child also includes the provision of financial resources for basics like food, clothing, etc. and for the child’s education. That is hugely important. I’ve argued for years that family law only recognizes typically maternal behavior as “parenting” and contributing to the child’s best interests. It routinely ignores the parent who earned the money to put a roof over the child’s head, clothes on its body, food on the table, etc. In some unexplained way, that isn’t considered parenting, but giving that food to the child, putting those clothes on it, etc. is. HB 4691 would change that.

The bill also presumes that, if the parents are living together at the time the divorce action is filed, both parents have provided the child with an “established custodial environment.” If they’re living apart, the parent who moved out of the familial home need only file a notice with the court of his/her intention to maintain a custodial environment for the child. In that way, parents who move out of the family’s house won’t be prejudiced by temporary orders that assume that the new abode isn’t an established residence. This presumption can be rebutted by evidence that maintaining the custodial environment isn’t in the child’s best interests.

HB 4691 also addresses paternity fraud and mothers who keep knowledge of a child from its father.

IF THE PRESUMPTION OF AN ESTABLISHED CUSTODIAL ENVIRONMENT UNDER SUBSECTION (1) OR (3) IS REBUTTED BECAUSE THAT PARENT WAS UNAWARE OF THE PARENTAGE OR WAS UNABLE TO MAKE ROUTINE CONTACT WITH THE CHILD, THE PARENT SHALL BE GIVEN 90 DAYS FROM THE DATE OF LEGAL RECOGNITION OF PARENTAGE OR FROM THE DATE THE COURT REBUTS THE PRESUMPTION TO NOTIFY THE COURT THAT HE OR SHE IS ESTABLISHING HIS OR HER CUSTODIAL ENVIRONMENT.

The bill also contains modest child support reform.

IF A PARENT WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PAYING SUPPORT WOULD OTHERWISE BE UNABLE TO MAINTAIN ADEQUATE HOUSING FOR THE CHILD AND THE OTHER PARENT HAS SUFFICIENT RESOURCES, THE COURT MAY REDUCE SUPPORT PAYMENTS FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE CHILD.

HB 4691 goes to bat for our military service personnel too. Several years ago, Michiganders were treated to the disgraceful spectacle of a member of the armed services who was deployed on a ship in the Pacific Ocean being deprived of custody because he was unable to attend a hearing in a Michigan court. Few were amused at the judge’s treatment of the man.

The bill allows anyone on military deployment to make a motion to stay proceedings regarding custody or parenting time and mandates that the judge grant it.

Finally, the bill requires judges to limit the exercise of parenting time to countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. That’s obviously an effort to bring any abducting parent to justice should he/she take the child overseas. Admittedly, that section of the bill won’t be much of a deterrent to a parent willing to abduct a child, but, after all, in those situations, there’s only so much a state court judge can do. HB 4691 would at least make it mandatory that family court orders include that provision.

All in all, HB 4691 is a strong bill that would make much-needed changes to family law in Michigan. By all means, contact committee members and urge them to pass it out of committee. The vote is this coming Tuesday, June 20. Here they are, along with their contact information. Thanks for your help.

Rep. Jim Runestad (District 44) [email protected]; 517-373-2616

Rep. Lana Theis (District 42) [email protected]; 517-373-1784

Rep. Tim Greimel (District 29) [email protected]; 517-373-0475

Rep. Martin Howrylak (District 41) [email protected]; 517-373-1783

Rep. Rose Mary Robinson (District 4) [email protected]; 517-373-1008

Rep. Triston Cole (District 105)  [email protected]; 517-373-0829

Rep. Vanessa Guerra (District 95) [email protected]; 517-373-0152

Rep. Pamela Hornberger (District 32) [email protected]; 517-373-8931

Rep. William Sowerby (District 31) [email protected]; 517-373-0159

Rep. Beau LaFave (District 108) [email protected]; 517-373-0156

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"Everyone complains of absentee fathers, but it is so difficult to get the courts to allow joint custody, let alone full custody, or even court-ordered visitation that actually works in real life. We are trying to do our part to help by working with these young men and bringing National Parents Organization to Pennsylvania. "

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