Molly Olson: Divorce Lawyers Thwart Equal Parenting Bills

July 22, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I’m privileged to know Molly Olson. She’s a veteran of the legislative wars on behalf of shared parenting in Minnesota. Put simply, no one has fought longer or harder to do what’s right for kids there than Molly Olson.

So everyone should pay close attention when she speaks as she does in this op-ed (Twin, 7/19/18). Olson measures her words; there’s no hyperbole in her piece. But beneath the calm surface of her article simmers frustration bordering on anger. She’s not screaming, but we get the feeling she’d like to.

That’s because the political powers that be allow the narrowest of special interest to thwart changes in laws and policies that would benefit the children of the state. And they’ve done it year after year after year for an astonishing 19 years.

For almost two decades, Minnesota legislators have chief-authored, co-authored, and voted in favor of bi-partisan bills supporting a baseline of joint physical custody and equal shared parenting for fit, healthy, loving, responsible parents, but their efforts on behalf of the public are continuously blocked at various stages of the legislative process.

Many versions of shared parenting bills, with clear exceptions that consider logistics and safety of children, have been discussed in every Minnesota legislative session for the last 19 years.

Sometimes those bills even manage to pass both houses of the legislature, but in Minnesota, that gets them no closer to becoming law than if they’d languished in committee.

Key senators from both parties refused to hear the bill in committee. Why? Because, multiple sources confirmed, Gov. Mark Dayton would likely again veto any shared parenting bill unless all other “stakeholders” — aka divorce-lawyer lobby groups — agree. Dayton vetoed a 35 percent parenting time bill in 2012. His veto letter stated, “I am particularly influenced by the strong opposition of so many organizations … who work every day with the most challenging divorces …”. It was divorce lawyer organizations who co-signed a strong opposition letter.

The failure to make equal parenting the presumption in child custody cases isn’t for want of staunch support on the part of some lawmakers.

Civil Law Committee Chair and chief author Rep. Peggy Scott said, “It is as clear as ever that Minnesota’s laws regarding parenting time need to be reformed. There needs to be a more level playing field when both parents walk into a courtroom so kids end up having the critical benefit of substantial time and involvement of both their parents.”

But with a governor whose support for children’s well-being doesn’t exceed his desire to appease divorce lawyers, who, presumably, reciprocate with campaign cash, nothing can get done. And as usual, the lawyers oppose equal parenting because they know its tendency to reduce conflict and therefore their fees.

Family-law attorney Brian Chmielewski opines, when it comes to younger children, “the district courts still tend to favor mothers, despite the fact that the ‘tender years doctrine’ is supposed to be abolished. Minnesota law does not encourage equal shared parenting. The Minnesota system is adversarial … some lawyers complicate and diminish the opportunities for parents to solve their case, creating legal issues and rifts that oftentimes result in discouraging early settlement.”

There is no excuse for this dereliction of duty on the part of legislators and the governor who refuse to do the obvious – bring Minnesota law into agreement with the science on children’s welfare and parenting time post-divorce. Those people know the benefits conferred on children by maintaining real relationships with both parents after the adults split up and yet they ignore those very benefits. That is disgraceful.

It’s the more so because, if the voters of Minnesota are like those of Missouri and Maryland and everywhere else such a poll has been conducted, they overwhelmingly support shared parenting as the starting point in divorces involving children.

That brings me to the topic I’ve broached before – electoral politics. Now, the National Parents Organization is a 501(c)(3) organization and therefore can’t advocate on behalf of or against individual office seekers. But the next step for the ever-growing legions of shared parenting supporters is to begin raising money via PACs and targeting for defeat those officeholders who fail in their duty to promote equal parenting and supporting those who do. There’s already one at work in Florida and I expect to see more as time goes on. When voting in favor of shared parenting bills becomes not only the right thing, but the prudent thing to do as well, we’ll see old, outdated child custody laws and practices falling like wheat before the scythe.

Meanwhile, let’s all give a round of applause for Molly Olson who continues to fight the good fight against forces that long ago should have left the field.

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