Bill Could Give Divorced Parents Equal Time with Children

A proposed Tennessee law would give the child of a divorced couple equal time with each parent. It’s attracted moms and dads on both sides to attend a state House subcommittee meeting Tuesday.

Today a divorced couple has to submit a parenting plan to set up how much time the mother and father each get to spend with the children.

Unhappy fathers say the courts usually give the mother more time. A proposal from Mike Bell would change that. The McMinn County Republican says his bill would make the default position equal time.

“As long as both parents are fit, and you know, as long as the judge has not found one to be unfit, for one reason or another, I think it’s in the best interest of the child that they know both parents equally.”

Proponents, largely representing dads, say that the bill will help families and give the child a continuous relationship with both parents.

Opponents argue that every child is different and the current system establishes a custody and visitation plan that is supposed to be best for the child – not the father or the mother.

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Bell is the chairman of the House Family Justice Subcommittee that is hearing his bill Tuesday. He heard proponents for about an hour last week and has four or five opponents ready to testify this week.

If the bill clears that subcommittee, it goes to the 12-member House Children and Family Affairs Committee, which like most House committees is split half Republican, half Democrat. But although the bill is carried by conservative Republicans, one of his co-prime sponsors is G.A. Hardaway, a Democrat who is on the Children & Family Affairs Committee.

Jeremy Hopkins, who spoke on the bill last week, says he has been fighting a custody battle since 2007. He says the bill is important because it preserves judicial discretion in cases of violence, abuse or abandonment, or where the parent is found to be unfit. But it also preserves the parent-child relationship in the case of two fit parents, he says.

Representative Jeanne Richardson, a Memphis Democrat who is also on the Family Justice Subcommittee, says the bill would be disruptive because children would be split between two primary homes. She says people who believe the bill will be fair and more favorable to fathers are missing one of the consequences of the bill.

“This bill would increase litigation in that it would encourage some parents to try to find the [evidence], or give evidence that would make the other parent seem unfit so that they could have custody, and that’s always a bad idea.”

The Institute for the American Family is lobbying for similar laws nationwide.
Another group actively lobbying for changes in the law is the Equal Parenting Party.

This article in Kentucky’s Divorce Law Journal outlines a couple of issues of interest, apparently, to divorce law practitioners who (mathematically, case by case) will be on different sides of the issue:

Leila Tsybulina contributed to this report.

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