Legislative bill to presume equal parenting time; bad for children, bad for families

Divorcing parents who can’t agree on an equal time share for their children would be forced to have equal parenting time – by default – unless a court finds clear evidence that they shouldn’t – under a new bill in the Kansas Legislature.

The bill, introduced into both the Kansas House and Senate under the guise of “fairness” to parents. Proponents say the measures are better for children, citing instances in which some parents don’t get equal time when their children when they want it. They point to research showing benefits for children raised by two parents. But opponents assert that this bill, which creates a presumption of equal parenting time that can only be overcome by a showing of “clear and convincing” evidence discourages parents from reaching their own agreement and instead imposes a cookie-cutter approach on children and families that hamstrings judges from doing what is best for children.

“Two parents should be equally involved in their kids’ lives,” said the chair of the Kansas chapter of the National Parents Organization — which pushes legislation around the country to create presumptions in favor of equal parenting time.

The problem is, said Ronald W. Nelson, an Overland Park, Kansas family lawyer, the bill doesn’t “encourage equal involvement,” but instead encourages manipulative and dysfunctional parents to use the presumption of equal time to exert power over weaker parents to the detriment of children.

The bill would also discourage parents from working together to come to an agreement, Nelson says. His reasoning: A parent who wants equal time has less cause to work with the other parent towards a mutually agreeable arrangement when an artificial presumption exists that would force the family into an equal time share with the only way to overcome that presumption being an onerous evidentiary standard (clear-and-convincing evidence) that doesn’t properly consider children’s interests but subjugates the child’s interests to one parent’s wants.

“Why would a parent work with and agree with the other parent on something other than an equal or near-equal parenting schedule” if the court is likely to split parenting time equally otherwise, Nelson said.

The bill would increase the number of disputed cases going to judges and would lead to more high-conflict and expensive child custody disputes, he said.

“This is a bad bill. It is bad for children and it is bad for families. It encourages dysfunction and encourages lack of cooperation between parents,” Nelson said.

Domestic violence awareness groups and women’s groups have raised concerns about shared parenting legislation because the presumption feeds into abuse and control dynamics in intimate and family relationships.

The bill will be heard by the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 10:30 am.