On May 24th, Governor Dayton opted not to sign a child custody bill which would have given both parents a presumption of at least 35% parenting time. Dayton’s “pocket veto” has the bill’s supporters lamenting what they deem a great loss for fathers, and a setback in reaching their goal of equal parenting time for both parents.
While there are legitimate arguments for the importance of both parents in the upbringing of a child, this bill was not the solution. For one thing, fathers as a whole do not have it as hard as many of their advocates would have us believe. In fact, research by The Center For Parental Responsibility has shown that fathers receive at least 45% parenting time in almost half of all cases. Indeed the current statute’s 25% minimum is by no means holding most dads to that percentage. It is a floor, and if they show in court that it is in the child’s best interests to be with them more than that, they will likely get more time.
While sole custody to the mother may have been the assumption in the past, courts are increasingly gender-neutral and case-specific in their analyses of parents. The standing Minnesota Statutes section 518.17, outlines in detail the “best interest” factors, which are to be taken into account in every child custody case. Things such as who is the primary caregiver, the stability of each parent’s home, cultural issues, and the child’s ties with school/community/etc, are just a few of the many factors which are weighed in deciding custody and parenting time. The court makes no assumptions on who is a better parent, and thus a father who has been very involved in his children’s upbringing prior to the court action should be on equal footing with an involved mother.
In addition, court-decided parenting time is generally rare (less than 1% of cases), as settlement between the parties is encouraged. The arrangement will fare better if chosen by the parents themselves, and, to be blunt, the court prefers to not have to make such in depth findings on the interpersonal relations of a family. Thus, in the few situations where parents are so at odds with each other that mediation and other alternative dispute resolution cannot bring them to agreement, the court is left to weigh the factors and make a decision. This decision is made by a court looking very closely at the lives of those involved; not by Congress making sweeping declarations.