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Bill would change Minnesota child custody laws

A bill before the Minnesota Legislature would require that both parents be treated equally in court during child custody disputes. If passed, the Children's Equal and Shared Parenting Act, would "create a rebuttable presumption of equal custody following divorce."

Provisions of the Minnesota child custody bill include:

  • There would be a rebuttable presumption of joint legal and joint physical custody.
  • Courts would be asked to award (under rebuttable presumption) at least 45.1 percent of parenting time to each parent.
  • Any parent challenging the presumption would have the burden of proving that the other parent is unfit and that there would be substantial harm to the child.
  • Substance abuse, mental illness and domestic violence allegations would not be enough to stop or reduce parenting time without clear and convincing evidence.
  • If the presumption is overcome, courts would use the best interests standard to determine what is in the child's best interests.

In the 2011 Legislature, the bill garnered support from both Republicans and Democrats. One of the bill's writers, Molly K. Olson, believes that the bill carries more weight this year and is hopeful that it will pass.

According to Olson, family courts are still prejudiced toward mothers, even though there have been extensive social changes since the child custody laws were created. Fewer women are stay-at-home mothers and many work just as many hours as their husbands.

Other research supports the need for a change:

  • In 2009, fathers represented less than 18 percent of all custodial parents (U.S. Census Bureau).
  • According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Survey on Child Health, children whose fathers are not active in their upbringing are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, as well as drop out of school.

Yet, implementing the bill may not only increase the financial strain on courts (potentially costing $4 million), but may even increase the adversarial nature of family court and endanger children. Before any significant change is made to Minnesota's child custody laws, there must be thorough research to ensure that the change would positively affect children in Minnesota.

Source: West Central Tribune, "Advocates push for change in Minnesota's child custody law," Anne Polta, Mar. 7, 2012.

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