When couples divorce, Minnesota law presumes joint legal custody. It does not, however, presume joint physical custody.
HF1262, sponsored by Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) and approved Feb. 28 by the House Public Safety and Civil Justice Committee, could change that.
The bill, awaiting action by the House Public Safety Finance Division, would change the presumption of physical custody to joint, but does not specify the amount of time each parent has to spend with the children.
Mahoney, who has been involved with similar bills for at least six years, stressed that “a parent should be able to share their values with their children, be it religion or their morals.”
Molly Olson, executive director of the Center for Parental Responsibility, said the bill would help “remove obstacles from keeping both parents in the lives of the children.”
According to Olson, because of current law, mothers receive sole custody 85 percent to 90 percent of the time, while many fathers are stripped of their responsibilities. Joint physical custody, Olson said, can help reduce conflict and domestic abuse. “If you’re concerned about domestic abuse, stopping a father from seeing their child is the worst form of abuse.”
Liz Richards, legal program coordinator for the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, said that granting joint physical custody is not always in the best interest of the children, nor does it decrease conflict. “This is not about access to the kids. This should be about what is truly best for the children.”
Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul) successfully offered an amendment proposing the Supreme Court convene a study group to evaluate the family court processes and procedures, and report to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2009. Any changes to statute would happen after the Legislature reviews the report.
A companion bill, SF1606, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.