A Kansas legislative committee heard passionate testimony this week from people both for and against a bill that would require courts to order shared custody and parenting of children in divorce cases. What is the status of equal custody?
Kansas Equal Parenting Bill
Kansas Senate Bill 257 would create a presumption in divorce cases that children of the couple would spend roughly equal time with each parent, unless the parties have agreed to another parenting plan in advance.
If the parties have not entered into a parenting plan, it shall be presumed that a court determination of legal custody, residency and parenting time providing for a child’s equal or approximately equal time with each parent is in the best interests of the child.
Under the bill, this presumption may be overcome only by clear and convincing evidence, a high burden to prove in court.
The equal parenting bill also allows courts to make a different determination if they make specific findings of fact stating why equal or approximately equal time with each parent is not in the best interests of the child.
I’ve written about Florida’s attempt to create a presumption of equal timesharing before. People are sometimes surprised to find out that Florida does not have an equal custody law.
Instead, Florida has a parenting plan concept which includes parental responsibility and timesharing. In Florida, courts order shared parental responsibility for a child unless shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.
The best interest of the child is the first consideration, and there are several factors judges evaluate to determine, under Florida law, what is in the child’s best interest.
Is a 50-50 Rule Good Policy?
Fifty-fifty timesharing between parents sounds like a great idea, and there are strong arguments for and against a presumption of equal timesharing.
On the one hand, an equal timesharing presumption promotes Florida’s existing policy of frequent contact after divorce, and puts the burden on the parent opposing equal timesharing, changing the dynamics of custody litigation.
However, requiring every family to have equal timesharing is like requiring every family to wear a size 4 shoe. Not every family fits. The equal timesharing presumption creates a uniform rule where the flexibility of ‘the best interest of the child’ is needed.
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
Under current Kansas law, custody cases are governed by what judges determine to be in the best interest of the child, rather than equal custody. Changing that law is a heated debate.
Not surprisingly, the hearing drew a packed audience, who told about the difficulty they have had maintaining relationships with their children when they were allowed only limited visitation.
The Lawrence Journal World article is here.