Effective last August 28, Missouri House Bill 1550 changed child custody agreements to encourage shared parenting and equal time with children after a divorce. The bill passed the senate unanimously, and the House with two dissenting votes.
Rep. Kathryn Swan (R-Cape Girardeau) said, “Children need and benefit from having both parents actively involved in their lives.” Supportive of the shared parenting bill, she pointed out that it is a child centered bill that “prohibits courts from adopting a cookie-cutter default custody or plan.”
Shared custody for the benefit of children
According to the National Parents Organization, children benefit more from shared parenting over single parenting. A Missouri member, Linda Reutzel, backs this up.
“As someone who has seen first-hand how our current family court system unnecessarily tears families apart, I see the new law as a first step on the road toward ensuring that all Missouri children thrive when their parents divorce or separate,” she shares.
“Once the law is in place, we hope attorneys and judges will stick to the original intent and act in the best interest of children.”
The new law prohibits the court from presuming that one parent is more qualified than the other to act as custodian, solely because of their gender. Instead, it forces the court to review relevant factors (e.g. Parent work schedules, residence, school location) in devising a parenting plan that meets the needs of the individual child or children.
A way of healing for the family
According to Dr. Ned Holstein, founder of the National Parents Organization in Massachusetts, many families suffer from the court’s outdated preference for granting sole custody to one parent.
“Instead of setting up parents for a bitter and unnecessary custody battle, shared parenting allows families to heal from the pain of divorce and separation from a position of equality and co-parenting,” he said.
Studies published by the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, the Journal of the American Psychological Association, and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts back this up and recommend shared parenting.
It may just be a family’s way of healing after a divorce.
Opponents of the idea
In Divorce Magazine, Drs. Donald A. Gordon and Jack Arbuthnot of Ohio, experts in parent-child relationships and divorce, say that shared parenting may not work for every family situation even with its benefits. It places limits on parents who wish to relocate, as well as on divorcing couples with particularly significant conflict.
Retired judge Vernon Scoville of Jackson County shared his reservations about shared parenting with the Associated Press. He said it’s difficult to come up with an equitable plan that works best for children if their parents are residents of different school districts and have different work schedules.
Meanwhile, feminist groups such as the National Organization for Women have opposed shared parenting in other states because it may lead to forced custody arrangements. Missouri’s new law may avoid this, however, by stating that the court can only determine child custody if the parents cannot reach an agreement on their own.
Additionally, the new law requires the court administrator to come up with statewide guidelines that maximize the amount of time that a child may spend with each parent to the highest degree.
Missouri is the latest state to join Utah, South Dakota, and Minnesota in passing such legislation. Supporters lauded Gov. Jay Nixon and legislators alike for its passage.