JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — A bill establishing the presumption that equal parenting time in custody arrangements is in the best interest of the child is moving through the Missouri legislature.
HB 1667, sponsored by Rep. Kathryn Swan, was heard in the Senate Committee on Seniors, Families and Children on Wednesday morning. The House approved the bill 137-7 at the beginning of April.
The legislation is a follow-up to an “equal parenting bill,” HB 1550, that become law in 2016 that supporters say is not being properly enforced in some courts.
The current bill would establish the presumption that equal parenting time in custody arrangements is in the best interest of the child. Supports said this would help ensure fair treatment for all parents.
“I am basically relegated to being a backseat father and a part-time dad,” Jeffrey King said. Under the current system, he only has custody of his children every other weekend and one night a week.
During the separation period between his now ex-wife, they shared custody of their children fifty-fifty. Unable to agree on which school district to enroll their children in, a judge awarded primary custody to King’s ex-wife.
Multiple fathers stepped up to share their stories. It took Mark Ludwig 204 days to get access to his son. Eric Edwards just wants to be “treated as an equal” in the eyes of the court.
Those testifying repeatedly called this a “pro-family bill” that didn’t just help fathers or mothers but also the children.
“Research overwhelmingly supports this principle,” said Linda Reutzel. “Equal shared parenting is in the best thing for children…Common sense and research show that the worst thing you can do to a child experiencing the divorce of their parents is to take one of them away.”
Opponents of the legislation disagreed with that assessment, stating that the research doesn’t back that assessment up.
“I am seeing a trend of fifty/fifty but it is having consequences,” said Elizabeth Miranda, a therapist who has a “front row seat” to what is happening with children in custody arrangements.
She described a situation where a child was anxious, stressed, and depressed because of who her parents handled the co-parenting arrangement.
There was also an instance of a male with domestic violence convictions being awarded fifty/fifty custody, according to Miranda. This — the potential for a rapist, an abuser, or an unfit parent to be awarded equal parenting time — was the main point of opposition to the bill. Supporters said that’s not what the bill does.
Those in opposition to the bill also pointed out that the court already takes into account what is in the best interest of the child and that this bill shifts the focus to the parents.
“I am against any law that presumes one parenting arrangement is best for all of Missouri’s families,” an attorney from Kansas City said. She called the legislation “at best damaging, at worst dangerous.”
Those testifying in support countered the claims saying the bill doesn’t take away a judge’s discretion but simply starts the conversation at fifty/fifty custody. The committee took no action on the bill.
The equal time shared parenting movement is happening nationwide with dozens of states passing laws that are similar to Missouri.