Over the last few years, there has been a push in Minnesota seeking to significantly modify the child custody laws.

The reformers argue that the present statutory system as applied has a discriminatory effect against fathers and that it fails to represent what is in the best interests of the child. What the reformers seek is a statutory presumption that placed both parent’s on an equal footing in custody proceedings by creating a presumption in favor of shared custody.

Those who oppose the bill, including the Minnesota State Bar Association, contend that the existing statutory scheme is sufficient since it allows a Court to make custody determinations based on the best interests of the child regardless of the parent’s gender. Opponents of the bill also argue that a joint physical custody schedule is generally not something that serves the child’s best interests and citing a 1999 publication entitled “A Parental Guide to Child Focused Parenting Time Decisions” prepared for the Minnesota Supreme Court by the Advisory Task Force on Visitation and Child Support Enforcement. That Guide may be found online at [censored]://[censored].mncourts.gov/documents/CIO/pubsAndReports/PARENTING_TIME_PAMPHLET.pdf

While the Guide includes some valuable information regarding how parents involved in custody proceedings should interact with their children, its recommendations suggest that shared parenting is far too difficult on younger children. It even suggests limiting overnight visits with the non-custodial parent until some nebulous time when children are able to make the transition more smoothly.

Proponents for shared custody believe that the research behind the Guide is flawed and, in fact, more recent research regarding the impact of divorce and separation on children has generated useful knowledge which indicates that, where conflict between parents is reduced by joint custody, children thrive.

The Children’s Equal and Shared Parenting Act, or House File 322, would require a presumption for shared parenting of children where each parent would be presumptively awarded at least 45.1 percent of parenting time. That presumption may be overridden if the court find the arrangement is not in the best interests of the child. The only exceptions would be in cases of domestic abuse or if one parent was causing substantial harm to the child.

Last year H.F. 322 passed a hearing in the House Civil Law Committee in April and is now poised for additional hearings this session in the House Judiciary and Policy Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill’s chief author, Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, supports the bill and has stated that it is an equal rights issue in custody proceedings. “This bill is really a common sense idea,” Scott said. “Why in our day and age when fathers and mothers both work and share equally in the responsibility of raising children, why should that change just because of a divorce?”

The bill is located online at https[censored][censored].revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=H0322.0.html&session=ls87

Presently, there appears to bi-partisan support for the new legislation which boasts a list of 25 legislative authors. On February 21, 2012, there is a meeting of the house Judicial Policy and Finance Committee at 8:15 in room 10 of the State Building with a second session scheduled for Thursday February 23, 2012 at the same time and place. The MN State Legislature website lists this information and has added an invitation for people to testify.

The House Judicial Policy and Finance Committee membership can be located online at: [censored]://[censored].house.leg.state.mn.us/comm/committee.asp?comm=87014

If you support this bill, now is the time to contact you State Representatives.