JEFFERSON CITY — A state representative believes fathers aren’t getting the parenting time they’re entitled to.
Rep. Kathryn Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, is sponsoring a bill that requires courts dealing with child custody cases to maximize the time the child spends with each parent with the presumption that equal parenting is in the child’s best interest, unless other factors show otherwise. The bill has already passed the House and was heard Wednesday in a Senate committee.
“In some areas, we’ve been in such a cookie-cutter default that, automatically, the father gets one night a week and every other weekend, and it’s been hard to get out of that mindset,” Swan said during a hearing with the Senate Seniors, Families and Children Committee.
Current law dealing with child custody cases considers “joint custody to be in the best interest of the child,” according to the Office of State Court Administrator.
Swan’s proposed bill, HB 229, requires judges to attempt to “maximize the time for the father and the mother with the child.”
“According to research, we know the children need influence of both parents to grow up in a healthy family situation,” Swan said.
Swan said some courts still select one parent as the primary caretaker by default, and she hopes this bill will give both parents equal opportunity.
The proposed bill gives judges the authority to make their own decisions if both parents cannot come to an agreement. However, their decision must be made with the consideration of the following factors:
- Wishes of both parents and their proposed parenting plan.
- Need of the child to have relationship with both parents and the ability of willingness of parents to be active in the relationship.
- Include interaction and interrelationship with the child and their parents, siblings and any other person who may be significant in the child’s life.
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child to interact with the other parent.
- The child’s adjustment to their home, school and community.
- Mental and physical health of everyone involved.
- Wishes of the child.
The bill allows for mitigating factors, such as domestic abuse, to be considered. It also states that if parents come to an agreement prior to going to court, they don’t have to go through a hearing.
“We have parenting guidelines on the Office of State Courts Administrator website, so ideally parents work through those guidelines before they go to their appointed court time,” Swan said. “If they’ve agreed on something, then it’s going to save a lot of time and a lot of money for them.”
Swan said her main goal for this bill is to make the court look at each case objectively.
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