By Julie Garrison
Special to DadsDivorce.com
With the New Year upon us, it’s time for a preview of pro-fathers' rights legislation awaiting approval in 2013. Even though 2012 brought America’s dads progress in their attempts to win equal parenting time and more equitable child support orders, there is still much work to be done.
Here is a sampling of the pro-dad bills before the legislatures of four states – Georgia, Minnesota, Vermont, and Virginia.
Georgia Family Law Legislation
There are four family law legislative proposals on the agenda for the 2013 Georgia State Legislature session.
- The first covers custodial authority for special activities. This provision would allow a noncustodial parent to initiate activities (subject to court approval) such as Girl Scouts, music lessons, or team sports for his or her child without the approval of the other parent even if one of these activities extends beyond the noncustodial parent’s parenting time. This initiation of extracurricular activities by a noncustodial parent would encourage shared parenting outside of the allocated time blocks. The rationale behind the legislation: "This proposal likely makes modification requests less contentious. A request for custodial authority for just specific special activities would likely be less contentious than a modification request for a change in overall parenting time."
- The second proposed law is called the Restoring Child Access to Both Parents Act, or the Presumptive Parenting Time Bill, and is modeled after recent Texas legislation that increases a child’s access to both parents after divorce. Even though these presumptive parenting times are rebuttable, they bring Georgia into the modern age of family law where both parents are more flexible and collaborative in parenting their children from two separate households.
- The third proposed bill is the Child Support Parenting Time Adjustment Bill that puts both parents on an equal footing regarding their incurred child expenses. All costs will be taken into account and shared by the other parent. This bill was patterned after a similarly structured bill that is being successfully implemented in the state of Arizona.
- Georgia’s fourth bill before the 2013 Legislature is the Child Support Standardization Bill, which would be based on the most recent Georgia child support cost study. This would reduce the inequity in future child support awards by eliminating the outdated child support guide and replacing it with current financial guidelines.
Minnesota Child Custody Laws
Minnesota family law has no presumption of equal parenting time and, oftentimes, dads are sidelined in favor of mothers in the amount of time they have with their children.
This lack of an equal-parenting presumption contributes extensively to the adversarial nature of custody proceedings. It creates a “winner” and a “loser,” when it should promote a win/win arrangement for the child, the mother, and the father.
Various Minnesota child custody bills have been brought before the legislature and ultimately vetoed, the latest being a bill that would set up a 35 percent/65 percent parenting-time presumption. Because this plan was portrayed as a "one-size-fits-all" option, it didn’t pass.
However, fathers' rights organizations both national and local are working diligently on a bill that Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will be able to sign in 2013.
Vermont Divorce Laws
A petition, drafted and distributed by single dad, Chris Weinberg, is picking up steam with divorced dads in Vermont. The petition is being circulated with the goal of obtaining 6,000 or more signatures, which is the requirement for bringing the shared-parenting prospective litigation before the 2013-14 Vermont State Legislature.
Vermont is one of only six states in the union that lack provisions for joint child custody. Advocates for joint-custody legislation contend that the overwhelming scientific and educational data in favor of co-parenting is reason enough to change current Vermont family law.
Pro-dad groups plan to present a shared parenting bill to the Vermont State Legislature in 2013 for the best interests of Vermont’s children and to bring Vermont’s custody and parenting laws into the 21st century.
Virginia Fathers Rights Bills
In 2012, House Bill 84 was constructed with the "child’s best interests in mind" to grant each parent joint physical custody as a rebuttable presumption.
A rebuttable presumption is almost self-explanatory in that the awarding of joint physical custody would become the default in all divorces where child custody is an issue. This "presumption" would need to be rebutted (challenged), if one of the parents wanted otherwise.
In the original draft of the bill, it was determined that no parent’s share of physical custody should be for a period of less than 40 percent of a child’s time.
During the legislative process, this language was progressively diluted in the committee process to, "Judges must communicate the reasoning for their decisions on custody or visitation to all parties involved."
How the language and intent of House Bill 84 could be so drastically changed is disconcerting, especially for fathers. Though current Virginia law does not state a preference on which parent should be given primary consideration in child custody disputes, mothers are overwhelmingly favored in custody decisions. In fact, Virginia’s child custody statistics show fathers represent only six percent of custodial parents.
Another Virginia bill, House Bill 606, sought to establish equal parenting time, but this bill didn’t survive in committee. Dads and other supporters of Virginia joint-custody legislation considered themselves down but not out.
Virginia fathers' rights groups and their supporters plan to begin 2013 by constructing new joint-custody legislation and pressing on through the committee process. Their goal is the successful passage of a joint-custody bill in the coming year that will equalize parenting time.
Dads Rights in 2013
With the majority of the states adopting presumptive parenting time legislation prior to 2012, the year 2013 is sure to add more states to these ranks. A positive trend at the national level is that several states have drafted parenting time and child support bills after those of other states that have successfully implemented their own legislation in these areas.
Fathers’ rights will see more in the way of mutual parenting plans with more time allotted for each parent with his or her children and an equal say in the decisions influencing their children. This equalizing of time, support and custody is a promising trend for divorced dads.
The year 2013 will hopefully bring more fairness to fathers who want an equal say in the lives of their children. They must keep vigilant, though, in pursuing family-friendly legislation to prove that collaboration between divorced parents is the best way to proceed.
Julie Garrison has been writing articles and short stories for the past 10 years and has appeared in several magazines and e-zines.