Kentucky’s monumental passage of a shared-parenting bill last year has been deemed the most popular vote in the state.
According to an Aug. 30 opinion piece in the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Administrative Office of the Courts has issued a report that shows a reduction in domestic court cases by 11% and a reduction of 445 cases of domestic violence since the full law took effect. Missouri, the Show-Me state, has clearly been shown.
Two key and influential Missouri state lawmakers, Sen. Wayne Wallingford and Rep. Kathy Swan, are continuing to rise to the challenge in making effective change on this issue here at home. The two Republicans planned to kick off a viewing of the powerful and gripping documentary “Erasing Family” in Cape Girardeau this month. The documentary explores trauma experienced by children when a loving, fit parent is erased from their lives because of separation and divorce. The documentary’s launch in Missouri is fittingly in their corner of the state. Additional screenings will continue as the documentary goes on the road.
More and more Missouri elected officials are turning their attention to the critical and frequently intertwined issues of social justice and criminal justice, and this provides every opportunity for legislation that these lawmakers will file again in the 2020 session to be a top priority in the Missouri Legislature. The legislative change they seek simply starts with a premise that there are two fit parents, and judges should be allowed discretion to make child-custody arrangements that award equal or approximately equal parenting time to each parent if doing so is in the best interests of the child.
Some progress has been made.
In 2016, Missouri passed a law requiring that written findings of facts and conclusions be submitted in all contested cases. The law also created an access motion form that can be filed by a parent without the cost of an attorney, which helps parents who cannot afford a court case. Another important provision in the law is that no court can adopt local rules or a default parenting plan. Along with these changes, a new guideline book is required to be printed with the policy of all parties maximizing shared-parenting opportunities.
Given this positive movement on the issues, National Parents Organization gave Missouri a C-plus grade in the recently released 2019 Shared Parenting Report Card. However, Missouri families deserve to have A-plus progress.
The planned Wallingford-Swan legislation would create a uniform law that looks at both fit parents as equals. This change reduces conflict and mitigates the real-world situations where custody decisions are based on what lawyer you have, or how much money you have in the bank, or even what judge you get. Such factors can tip the scales and rip a child and a fit parent apart.
Clearly, it is difficult to change a section of family law. Conflict, strife and prolonged court battles help attorneys collect higher fees, and lawyers sure pay attention to legislation. However, stagnation on this issue is hurting families. The bias in the law is overdue for a correction.
Strong relationships with family and extended family give children a sense of innate security and connectedness that is of the utmost importance to their well-being. Regardless of the hysterical rhetoric masking the dollars attorneys collect, it is simply not good enough for the status quo to remain.
Changing the law will require an act of courage from the Missouri Legislature.
Linda Reutzel is the chair for the Missouri Affiliate of National Parents Organization.