May 7, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The Alabama Senate has overwhelmingly passed a strong shared parenting bill.  SB 266 passed the Senate by a vote of 25 – 4 and now goes on to the House for consideration.

Senator Larry Stutts is the lead sponsor of SB 266.  He had this to say about it and shared parenting:
“Parental equality should be the starting point for every child custody case,” Stutts remarked. “Ultimately, it’s about the child having a right to equal time with both of his or her mother, father, and extended family, provided that both parents are responsible adults.”

As I said, SB 266 is strong.  Entitled the Children’s Equal Access Act, it seeks to provide exactly that.  First and foremost, it defines “Joint Custody” as “equal or approximately equal time with both parents.”  It then establishes a rebuttable presumption that joint custody is in the child’s best interests.

In order to rebut the presumption of joint custody, judges would have to find by clear and convincing evidence that same is not in the child’s best interests.  The “clear and convincing” standard is second in stringency only to “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  That would make deviating from joint custody a tall order for judges.

In the same way, SB 266 would require judges to consult 16 enumerated factors including the fitness of the parents, any history of abuse, each parent’s home environment, etc. in order to rebut the presumption.

SB 266 would then require judges to explain in writing their reasons for not granting joint custody when they issue such an order. 

Finally, SB 266 retains the existing policy of the state:
It is the policy of this state to assure that minor children have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of their children and to encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of rearing their children after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.
All that of course militates strongly in favor of joint custody.

Alabama law now states that each parent should have frequent and continuing contact with their children, so why does the law need reform?  The Alabama Family Rights Association explains:
Results of surveys administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) indicate that a biased and unbalanced practice still exists throughout the State of Alabama. See the State of Children in Alabama.  Approximately 40,000 Alabama children a year experience court ordered visitation with one parent for only two to six days a month.  Statistical results confirmed by Alabama DHR reveal that children lacking meaningful contact with one of their parents are more likely to be burdened by increased youth crime, school dropout rates, drug and alcohol use, teen pregnancies, teen incarceration, and bullying.
So, despite the clear preference of existing law, judges simply use the lack of definition of frequent and continuing contact to default to the old standard of every other weekend visitation.

I’ll report back on how SB 266 fares in the Alabama House.

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Volunteer Testimonial

"I am very proud to be part of the National Parents Organization, helping to make shared parenting a reality. Children should have equal access to both parents whenever possible. It makes their lives better, and it ensures a brighter future for everyone in this country. Equal rights for both parents, regardless of gender, is today’s most pressing social issue."

By Alan Cooke, CFA, Co-Chair, Massachusetts Executive Committee