In the two-year trek to fix Minnesota’s child custody laws, one father’s testimony before a House committee stands out to me above all else. This father and his teenage son testified that the father had spent more than $300,000 in legal fees trying to get shared custody of his three kids, all of which WANTED to have equal time with both parents. The son, then a senior in high school, testified that now there was no money left for him to attend college.
Their experience is evidence of why our efforts to pass the Joint Physical Custody/Equal Shared Parenting Act are so important. This is a problem that has plagued our children, and primarily fathers, for decades in this state and across our country.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, a parent’s interest in the companionship, care, custody and management of his or her children rises to a constitutionally secured right, given the centrality of family life as the focus for personal meaning and responsibility.
How is it then that, in many cases today, it is easier to lose your child in family court than it is in CHIPS (Children in Need of Protection) court? Furthermore, how is it in the so-called “best interests of the child” to be ripped from one fit, loving parent without just cause?
I have seen scenarios of unwarranted court-forced fatherlessness and have talked with the parents and adult children who have become the victims of this travesty. Years later, they still tear up when talking about that painful time in their lives.
Family court cases can be the ugliest of cases our court system faces. It is a “competition” to see who is the best parent, with the grand prize the custody of the child(ren) and the child support that is tied to it. The current law says that the most one parent can be guaranteed is 25 percent parenting time, whether or not they are determined unfit.
My bill — HF322 — may not be the panacea to all the ills of family court, but it does tell the courts that two fit, loving parents should be treated as such and be on equal footing when it comes to parenting time.
It was developed after meetings with family law attorneys, mediators, judges, advocates, domestic violence prevention advocates and legal aid. Each word of this bill was carefully chosen. Throughout this process, we have invited input and have changed the bill as a result of some of that input.
At the end of the day, this bill is really “the people’s” bill. I was elected to represent the people, not the courts. The people have come to us, their legislators, for fair treatment under the law because they are not finding it in many family courts across our state. If we do not help them, where else can they turn? — Peggy Scott, R-Andover