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Dayton doesn't sign custody bill, tabling discussion for next year

Last week, Governor Mark Dayton issued a pocket veto of the child custody legislation that would have increased the child custody presumption to 35 percent.

According to Dayton, there was "too much uncertainty" regarding whether the change in child custody and visitation would be good for children. He has asked legislators to renew the discussion during the 2013 legislative session.

As we have discussed in previous blog posts, the goal of the bill was to provide noncustodial parents (parents who do not live with their children for the majority of the time) greater visitation and custody rights. Currently, state law presumes that each parent is entitled to at least 25 percent of the year with their children. This tends to mean that noncustodial parents spend every other weekend and time during the summer with their children.

In the child's best interests?

The bills drafters wanted to increase that time to an almost equal share, but the share was reduced to 35 percent by the Minnesota legislature. While the bill passed both House and Senate, Dayton said there is still more to do to determine what is truly in the best interests of Minnesota's children. Does increasing the presumption by 10 percent benefit the children or just their parents? Is it wise to take the decision-making ability away from the courts, who are supposed to consider a child's best interests when determining child custody?

Here are some of the main points of Dayton's letter regarding the pocket veto:

"Every marriage is different; therefore, each divorce has its own unique set of facts, conditions and circumstances. Thus, it is very difficult to codify one set of presumptions and preferences, which will apply to every family situation...

"The proponents of H.F. 322 [the bill] cite many cases where the law's changes would benefit both parents and their children. On the other hand, opponents cite many compelling reasons why, in other instances, the changes made by the legislation would have harmful consequences for at least one of the parents and the children...

"People and parties on both sides of the legislation share the same, good faith intentions, rooted in their shared desire to proscribe what will be best for every parent and, especially, every child ensnared in the painful dissolution of a marriage...

"There is enough uncertainty about all of the ramifications of this legislation to persuade me to give pause to its enactment."

We will likely see a similar version of this bill reappear in next year's legislative session.

Source: Star Tribune, "Dayton issues pocket veto of child custody bill," Jennifer Brooks, May 24, 2012.

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