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Whatever happened to custody reform?

Minnesota child custody law advocates have been pushing for comprehensive reform since the 2012 legislative session, but it appears that little action will be taken by government this year. Fathers’ rights supporters have been seeking changes to existing state law that would provide automatic 50-50 joint custody of children after divorce, rather than simply guaranteeing 25 percent of time for each parent and negotiating the rest.

A bill sponsored by some state legislators would have increased the minimum amount of parental contact to 35 percent, but the governor vetoed that bill. He argued that the presumption of custody would harm children whose parents are not equally qualified to care for them; he failed to mention, of course, that courts do not grant automatic custody presumptions to children who have been subjected to abuse or neglect. Attorneys say these automatic presumptions are simply starting points for further negotiations, serving as guidelines during child custody negotiations.

The governor himself said he is skeptical about the chances for custody law reform, largely because there are so many advocates who would reject the proposed changes. Many Minnesota attorneys argue that the standard is sufficient to guarantee fathers’ rights at this time.

Still, the proposed Minnesota legislation has provided the framework for many other reform efforts, including those in Nebraska and Florida, which now presume 50-50 joint custody unless certain mitigating factors are present. Those could include the incarceration of one parent, distance between the parents’ homes, or a parent choosing to forfeit his or her 50 percent rights.

Fathers are often left with few options during modern custody proceedings as judges seem to favor mothers almost without fail. Changes to the Minnesota law would allow fathers to regain some measure of control in the courtroom, where they could argue for additional time to see their children. Fathers seeking help during these custody proceedings should contact a qualified family attorney who can help them understand their rights and responsibilities under the law.


Source:  startribune.com, "From the ?whatever happened? department: child custody legislation" Jeremy Olson, Apr. 19, 2013

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