Northern Michigan Domestic Violence Advocates Voice Concern Over Bill Requiring Joint Custody

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Another bill getting attention, this lame duck session is one that would reshape the way child custody is awarded in divorce cases.

The bill passed out of committee earlier this year, but may be taken up before the end of lame duck.

A lot of the concern right now is coming from people who work with survivors of domestic violence and what this legislation would mean for them.

House Bill 4691 would bring major changes when it comes to deciding custody during divorce between two parents. It would require a judge to grant joint custody and equal parenting time unless there is strong evidence of domestic violence in the family.

Jim Runestad, a Republican Representative from the 44th District says, “This bill actually requires the very low “preponderance of the evidence” evidentiary standard, which means that when the evidence is in, you only have to tip the scales ever so slightly, by a tiny grain of sand, to win.”

“This one size fits all, does not fit all and it will take the current law out which gives each case the opportunity to be looked at on an individual basis to decide if each parent is equally responsible to co-parent,” said Courtney Cirone, a sexual assault and domestic violence advocate at Oasis Family Resource Center in Cadillac.

To which Runestad says, “Current law does not need to determine whether both parents are equally responsible in child rearing.  It only must conclude that one parent spent more time than the other raising the kids (Established Custodial Environment Standard).  Stay-at-home parents given overwhelming advantage in child custody determinations, regardless of whether the other parent is good.

The bill requires numerous factors beyond domestic violence to be considered before determining 50/50 child custody:

  • Love, affection and emotional ties.
  • History of the parents in providing support for education, religion and health care needs and the capacity to continue.
  • Ability to provide food, clothing and other necessities of daily life.
  • The history of the parents in maintaining regular and congoing contact with the child.
  • The history of the parents in providing age appropriate emotional and social development.
  • A parent’s behavior extending beyond reasonable parenting practices that compromises the stability of the home, or the health, safety or wellbeing of the child.
  • A mental or physical condition or moral fitness that compromises the stability of the home.
  • The impact on the child’s academics.
  • If the parent is engaged in criminal activity or substance abuse.
  • The willingness of the parties to encourage a close relationship between the child and the other parent.
  • Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
  • A parent’s ability to provide transportation.
  • Any other factor the court believes that may materially compromise the stability of the home or the health, safety, or well-being of the child.”

Courtney Cirone is an advocate for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault at Oasis in Cadillac. She’s worried if this bill becomes law there would be harmful consequences.

“Our clients are not going to leave, they’re going to stay put, and they’re going to stay in these homes essentially because they’re risking their partner having access to the child,” said Cirone.

Kimberly Scott is Executive Director of River House in Grayling. Her concern is the battles children could get caught up in if this bill moves forward.

“By our statistics, those kids are still in dangerous situations and it’s also putting the victim of the abuse back into a dangerous situation, whether it’s trading the kids off or just using the kids as an abuse tactic continuously,” said Scott.

“The proposed legislation eliminates the presumption of shared parenting time with proof of domestic violence,” says Runestad.

Supporters of the bill simply say there are benefits to children in shared parenting situations.