Minnesota Lawmakers: Joint Custody Presumption Needed

Fathers going through divorce proceedings understand all too well the hurdles that can come with seeking custody of their children. Although Minnesota law requires custody, visitation and parenting time to be decided "in the best interests off the child," a group of Minnesota legislators argued this past session that courts too often default to the outdated notion that mothers should be the primary caregivers.

The lawmakers introduced a bill that sought to alter this perception by establishing a presumption of joint custody between parents seeking divorce. The bill would have allowed each parent a minimum of 45.1 percent parenting time, unless the parents agreed otherwise.

The bill’s authors argued that children do best when they have significant contact with both their mother and their father, especially if the two parents are living apart. According to the language of the bill, its purpose was to "prevent children from being alienated or disenfranchised from their parents’ lives through the unwanted interference of either parent."

The bill would have allowed either parent to overcome the presumption of joint custody by showing that the other parent had done one of the following things:

  • Abandoned the child
  • Subjected the child to physical or sexual abuse
  • Neglected the child
  • Allowed the child to live in injurious or dangerous conditions

The bill ultimately died in committee and was not put to a full vote of either the house or the senate. Detractors argued that the current system is not broken and that the bill would make child custody proceedings unduly complicated.

Bill Attracted Unusual Attention

Although the bill did not become law, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that it did find an unusual set of advocates — a class of business students from Globe University.

As part of a class project, the students were tasked with choosing what they thought was the "most intriguing" bill moving through the legislature and were asked to organize a debate on the subject. They did, and for nearly two hours one spring night, lawyers, lawmakers, students and parents sparred over the implications of the bill.

Although they disagreed on the implications of the legislation, all concurred that this is an issue that deserves a lot more conversation.

The debate over this legislation serves to prove how difficult and contentious child custody proceedings can be. Divorcing parents would be well advised to seek the help of an experienced family lawyer who can help them maximize their parenting time.