Throughout the spring in our St. Paul Family Law Blog, we discussed a child custody bill that was making its way through the Minnesota Legislature. The bill would have expanded each parent's minimum parenting time to 35 percent, except in cases of domestic or drug abuse. As we know, Gov. Mark Dayton ultimately vetoed the bill because of uncertainty of how it would affect outcomes in family law court.
However, lawmakers are expected to tackle the issue again. Minnesota, like all states, has traditionally favored mothers over fathers in child custody cases. However, even though this bill was not passed, the state is still among those leading the nation in the push for shared parenting.
As it stands currently, Minnesota law automatically affords each parent 25 percent parenting time, absent abuse. The standard for awarding physical and legal custody is the child's best interest. Historically, family law professionals have agreed the best interest of the child is to remain in a stable environment with his or her mother, while the father plays a smaller role--perhaps visiting on weekends and paying child support.
In recent years, research has suggested that it is best for children to have substantial time with both parents. One study that involved a survey of 1,000 college students showed that nearly every single one of them thought children need to be with both parents.
Scientific studies have shown that when a child spends time with both parents, his or her physical, mental and behavioral health are in better shape.
Arizona is another state that is expanding father's rights in light of such studies. In 2010, the state changed a custody statute to state that if there is no evidence of abuse, the child's best interest is to have substantial and meaningful parenting time with both of his or her parents. And next year another law will go into effect that forbids the courts from considering the gender of the parents or the child in making custody decisions.
In Texas and Florida, the non-custodial parent now has a right to 40 percent of parenting time, and Illinois is considering a bill that would give both parents 35 percent.
However, it is important to note that shared-parenting bills are not without controversy. Studies show that when parents are forced into shared custody involuntarily, the tension and conflict have a negative effect on the child.
Others say that courts need to continue to focus on the best interest of the child, and when a law automatically gives each parent a certain amount of parenting time, this infringes on the court's ability to make the best decisions for the child.
Source: NBC 12 News, "Arizona dad fights for rights of divorced fathers," Alia Beard Rau, June 16, 2012