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Bill would presume equal parenting time to divorcing couples

Jacob Quade testifies in the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division on HF1666, sponsored by Rep. Peggy Scott, right, which would change the parenting time presumptions in cases of child custody. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Family courts may be required to have an “equal parenting time presumption” when deciding upon allocating parenting time for each parent in a divorce proceeding.

That would mean each parent is awarded 50 percent parenting time unless a family court judge has reasons to lower the time for one parent, such as when “parenting time with a parent is likely to endanger the child's physical, mental, or emotional health or safety or impair the child's emotional development.”

Sponsored by Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover), HF1666 was laid over as amended Tuesday by the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF1295, is sponsored by Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Marys Point) and awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

“Children thrive with both parents in their lives,” Scott said. The bill would not mandate that judges always award equal time to each parent in a divorce, she said, but would simplify uncontested divorce proceedings when both parents are fit and want to be equally engaged in parenting their children.

Under the bill, judges could lower parenting time for a parent who has a diagnosed, untreated mental health issue, a diagnosed, untreated chemical dependency issue, or a history of abuse, among other conditions.

Current law has a 25 percent minimum presumption of parenting time for one parent.

Testifiers said that presumptive minimum leads to unnecessary attorney’s fees for a parent who wants to obtain more time.

Jacob Quade said he spent more than two years in family court pursuing equal custody of his children.

“The $15,000 I spent on attorney fees could have been spent on my children,” Quade said.

Several domestic abuse victims and advocates spoke against the bill, saying it does not include sufficient protections to limit or prevent parenting time for parents who have been shown to be abusive.

Liz Richards, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, said that although the bill seeks to guide judges to make custody decisions based on the best interests of children, it then unwisely defines that as equal parenting time.

That forces domestic abuse victims to present extensive evidence to the courts of “clear and convincing evidence” of the abuse, Richards said, noting that victims often cannot, or are unwilling, to do that.

“Maximizing parenting time with an unsafe parent is definitely not in a child’s best interest,” she said.

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