Tuesday, March 30, 2010
A bill pending in the Tennessee legislature to mandate equal sharing of a child's time with each parent (with few exceptions) is sparking serious debate between women's advocacy groups and fathers' rights groups.
On one side is an alliance of women's groups, some judges and the Tennessee Bar Association, who say the change would make divorces tougher to settle and give abusive ex-husbands leverage they shouldn't have. Spending half of the time with each parent would also impose impractical schedules on kids, they say.
On the other side are fathers' rights groups who say kids get deprived of full relationships with both parents. Courts have too long ignored laws calling for custody decisions to be made in children's best interests, they say, and judges are overly influenced by notions about the mother-child bond.
The state's House Children and Family Affairs' Family Justice Subcommittee is scheduled to meet today to review divorce-related data it requested from the Tennessee Bar Association, as it works to determine whether to send the bill to a second committee that could send it to the full House.
Other states, including Missouri, start from a presumption of an even custodial split unless there has been abuse, said Janet Richards, a law professor at the University of Memphis who specializes in child custody matters. Tennessee would be alone in requiring clear, convincing evidence that one parent is unfit before dividing custody unequally, she said.
"This law sets up a standard of proof that's just short of the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt," Richards said.
Committee hearings on the bill have drawn standing-room-only crowds full of mothers wearing saucer-size lapel stickers that read "Vote no on HB 2916" and fathers wearing everything from military fatigues to business suits.