The question over how much time, at a minimum, divorcing parents should get with their kids was a hot issue in the 2012 Legislative session. But despite some encouragement from Gov. Mark Dayton at the end of the last session, the issue does not appear to be returning to the legislature this year.
Late last week, custody reform advocate Tom Burke said he doesn't foresee legislation this year that would increase the minimum percentage of time both divorcing parents receive with their kids. Current law determines that divorcing parents in contested cases each get 25 percent of time with their children, and that the rest is negotiated or set by the courts. Some, particularly advocates of father's rights, wanted that changed to 50-50. They argued that a presumption of equal parenting time would help children by eliminating some of the pain and divisiveness of child custody negotiations.
"It's the kids who are getting hurt," Burke said.
The bill that eventually reached the governor's desk last session would have changed the minimum amount to 35 percent. But Dayton vetoed the bill at the end of the session. He was swayed by family law attorneys who said that an increase in presumed time might benefit parents, but it might hurt children who in some cases are better off spending more time with one parent and/or in one home. (The issue only applies to divorce cases in which both parents are deemed safe -- not when one parent has been found abusive or neglectful. And the parenting time figures are just a starting point. Divorcing parents can always negotiate other arrangements.)
In a letter explaining his veto, Dayton encouraged both sides to negotiate and return with legislation that ensures the best outcomes for children of divorces. Burke said he is skeptical of the chances of future legislation, though, because of the strong lobbying influence of Minnesota attorneys who are against changes.
Burke said advocates on both sides of the issue met in January and reached consensus on a number of principles regarding child custody and how it should work. That list was finalized in April, and will serve as a starting point for further talks on custody reforms, he said.
Interestingly, Minnesota's child custody bills from last session have served as the starting points for similar reform efforts this year in other states such as Nebraska. The Florida House and Senate also just passed shared parenting legislation with the following language:
Equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is in the best interest of the child unless the court finds that:
a. The safety, well-being, and physical, mental, and emotional health of the child would be endangered by equal time-sharing, that visitation would be presumed detrimental consistent with s. 39.0139(3), or that supervised visitation is appropriate, if any is appropriate;
b. Clear and convincing evidence of extenuating circumstances justify a departure from equal time-sharing and the court makes written findings justifying the departure from equal time-sharing;
c. A parent is incarcerated;
d. The distance between parental residences makes equal time-sharing impracticable;
e. A parent does not request at least 50-percent time-sharing;
f. A permanent injunction has been entered or is warranted against a parent or household member relating to contact between the subject of the injunction and the parent or household member; or
g. Domestic violence, as defined in s. 741.28, has occurred.