JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Some changes to child custody agreements will take place later this month as one of the less controversial bills from the 2016 legislative session becomes law.
HB 1550 will change shared custody agreements to encourage more shared parenting after a divorce and takes effect Aug. 28.
“Children need and benefit from having both parents actively involved in their lives,” said Rep. Kathryn Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, a supporter of the bill. “The shared parenting bill is a child-centered bill. It prohibits courts from adopting a cookie-cutter default custody order or plan.”
Under the new law, the court must consider relevant factors and enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law. It also prohibits a court from presuming that one parent, based solely on his or her sex, is more qualified than the other parent to act as custodian for the child.
Instead, the parent work schedules, residence, location of the school, etc. are determining factors in developing a parenting plan that best meets the needs of the individual child or children.
Supporters of the legislation lauded the legislators and Gov. Jay Nixon for its passage. Missouri joined Utah, South Dakota and Minnesota in passing similar legislation.
“As someone who has seen first-hand how our current family court system unnecessarily tears families apart, I see the new law as a first step on the road toward ensuring that all Missouri children thrive when their parents divorce or separate,” said Linda Reutzel, a National Parents Organization of Missouri member. “Once the law is in place, we hope attorneys and judges will stick to the original intent and act in the best interest of children.”
HB 1550 passed the Senate unanimously and the House with two dissenting votes.
Children benefit from an emphasis on shared parenting over single-parenting, data provided by the National Parents Organization.
Studies published by the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, the Journal of the American Psychological Association, and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts have recomended shared parenting.
“Too many families have suffered from the family courts’ outdated preference for giving sole custody to one parent,” said Dr. Ned Holstein, founder of the National Parents Organization. “Instead of setting up parents for a bitter and unnecessary custody battle, shared parenting allows families to heal from the pain of divorce and separation from a position of equality and co-parenting.”
However, the idea of shared parenting has its share of opponents. Drs. Donald A. Gordon and Jack Arbuthnot of Ohio University, both experts in parent-child relationships and divorce, argue in Divorce Magazine that while shared parenting certainly has benefits, it may not work for every family situation. It also places limits on parents that may wish to relocate or if there is significant conflict between the divorcing couple. Some feminist groups, like the National Organization for Women, have opposed shared parenting proposals in other states because the language may lead to “forced custody arrangements.”
Missouri’s new law may circumvent this concern by stating that the court only determines custody if the two parents cannot reach an agreement of their own. The court will still determine child custody in the best interest of the child as already stated in statute.