This past Monday, August 28, was filled with a slew of ceremonial bill signings from Missouri Governor Mike Parson. One of the bills that was signed was SB 35, sponsored by State Senator Karla May.
SB 35 “adds a rebuttable presumption when determining child custody arrangements that an award of equal or approximately equal parenting time to each parent is in the best interests of the child”. This means equal or approximately equal custody will be initially presumed as the best option for a child during custody arrangements.
“I think it’s going to be a great thing for individuals who are faced with those decisions,” May said.
The bill does specify that this presumption can be rebutted with a preponderance of evidence that equal parenting time is not in the interest of the child, such as a different agreement between the parents or evidence of domestic violence.
State Representative Jim Murphy, who handled the bill in the House, stated “This is not a rubber stamp for all cases. This is merely a starting point allowing children equal access to both parents when a case begins. The bill has many safeguards which allow Judges to determine if there are situations when this presumption should not apply, as when a court finds a pattern of domestic violence has occurred.”
Prior to SB35, the initial presumption in Missouri was that the child being a visitor every other weekend was in the child’s best interest.
Mark Ludwig, Founder of Americans for Equal Shared Parenting, spoke about the bill.
“Children are already traumatized enough when they find out their parents are no longer together. Then, they immediately have one parent ripped out of their life who they visit every other weekend. They end up with a sense of confusion, hurt, resentment, and a void which ends up manifesting down the road as behavioral problems, drug use, violent crime, incarceration and in some cases suicide,” Ludwig said.
The bill also included other major changes relating to child custody proceedings. Most notably the bill contains language that alters license suspensions of obligors that are not in compliance with a child support order. SB35 now requires that the court take into consideration certain factors like ability to pay the support, need for transportation, and employment when license suspension is being considered.
Additionally, the bill alters current law regarding the child’s input in custody decisions. Previously, the courts were required to “consider and enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law on the child’s wishes as to his or her custodian”. Now SB 35 requires that the court “instead consider the child’s unobstructed input, free of coercion and manipulation, as to his or her custodial arrangement”.
SB35 passed 114-9 in the House and 30-4 in the Senate during the last hour of the 2023 legislative session. Missouri now joins Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia Florida, who all passed Equal Shared Parenting legislation this year.