This article by Molly Olson couldn’t be better (Twin Cities Pioneer Press, 2/7/11). Olson has long been a staunch friend of equally shared parenting. For years she’s fought in her home state of Minnesota for equal parental rights for dads.
Now she and her Center for Parental Responsibility have a bill before the Minnesota legislature that is the best I’ve yet seen. With but one exception, it covers all the bases. Better still is Olson’s belief that it has a real chance of passing. Here’s the text of the bill.
HF322 has just been introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives. In a nutshell, it requires divorcing or separating parents to try to establish a parenting plan. No such plan can give parenting time of less than 45.1% to either parent. If the parents can’t agree on a plan, the judge will order one.
If the judge orders one, there is a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting under which neither parent may be given less than 45.1% of the parenting time. Any parent seeking to rebut the presumption would have to do so by clear and convincing evidence (that’s the evidentiary standard between ‘preponderance of evidence’ and ‘beyond reasonable doubt’). The parent seeking to rebut the presumption would have to prove on the part of the other parent “an unfitness… that would cause substantial harm to the children.”
That of course includes violence or child abuse. But Section 7, Subdivision 2(d) states
Allegations of substance abuse, mental illness, spousal or child abuse or neglect, and any subsequent issuance of protective orders are not sufficient to cause cessation or reduction in parent and child contact.
To say the least, that’s a huge step forward. It finally strikes a blow at what countless family law practitioners have criticized for years – the use of abuse allegations to separate fathers from children. Under the HF322, family courts would have to find for themselves by clear and convincing evidence that any such abuse would constitute a danger to the child before it could reduce parent-child contact.
The bill goes into considerable detail about the value of both parents to children and how the state recognizes the fact and seeks to promote continued parent-child relationships post-divorce. The bill’s language would bring the State of Minnesota up to date with what social scientists have been shouting about for years – that intact families are best for children.
As to Olson’s article, I can only say that I wish I’d written it myself. Simply put, she gets it. Olson gets it about the value of intact families and the need to keep both parents in children’s lives post-divorce. She gets it that most fathers want to be active parents but are often prevented from doing so by a family court system that chooses winners and losers, with dad playing the latter role.
While exceptions will always be with us, in too many cases fatherlessness is caused not by dads who don’t want to be involved; nor is it caused by a father who has been found unfit. Rather, it’s because family courts restrict the access that fit, loving, responsible fathers have to their children, often without just cause.
You tell it, sister.
Olson understands that family law and court practice bear little resemblance to what we have long known about the value of fathers to children.
Courts claim they are forced by statute to decide which parent wins the child and which parent loses. The winner-take-all system creates power struggles, subsequent conflict, and life-long negative impact on children. Meanwhile, research and common sense have discovered joint physical custody and the concept of “equal shared parenting” are in the best interest of children for almost all families.
She gets it that fathers in family courts often are at the mercy of the mother of their children.
Under current law, fathers and children are left defenseless when a mother asserts “we can’t get along.” Whether true or untrue, and no matter who is at fault, that single declaration will prevent a dad from being allowed to share parenting equally, if at all.
Most impressively, Olson gets the concept of equality. You wouldn’t think it would be that difficult, but the fact is that a lot of people who believe themselves to be egalitarian, just can’t wrap their brains around the idea of equal parental rights.
In 2006, a new law in Minnesota established a 25 percent minimum parenting time – throwing a bone to fathers. Opponents argue that is significant enough. If that’s true, then let’s test for fairness and reverse the roles. That wouldn’t go over so well. Is it any surprise dads are angry? Or that adult children who come to realize they were needlessly deprived of their fathers are angry, too?
It’s hard to find a fit, loving father who’s been through the meat grinder called family court who has not lost confidence in our family court system. These fathers are depending on the Legislature now, because the only fair starting point is equality.
Outside of blogs like this one, tell me how often you’ve read words like that before.
As enthusiastic as I am about HF 322, it does have one shortcoming – it doesn’t change the fact that unmarried fathers and unmarried mothers are treated differently. Unmarried mothers have parental rights automatically; unmarried fathers have to ask a court for theirs. With 40% of children born out of wedlock, the discrimination against unmarried fathers needs to change.
That said, Olson’s HF 322 is the best bill I’ve yet seen in any state or country on any continent. Now is the time to give it our utmost support. If you’re a Minnesotan, write your state representative and state senator and tell him/her to vote for HF 322. Be nice, but make sure they understand that your vote and your financial support for them in the future depend on their vote for HF 322.
Here’s the website for the Center for Parental Responsibility. They’re giving regular email updates letting people know what they can do to support the bill, so whatever you can do to help them, now is the time.