Shared parenting time is back in the Senate

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Controversial legislation changing how the courts deal with parenting time during dissolution proceedings was heard in the Family Care and Aging Committee this week. The bill changes the amount of parenting time each parent is presumed to have from 25% to 50% or as close to 50% as possible. The bill also requires judges to take into account certain family dynamics and other factors and requires judges to lay out their reasoning in the order for parenting time.

The bill explicitly requires judges to consider things like domestic abuse or any untreated substance abuse and mental health conditions of a parent, whether a reduction in parenting time may have negative impacts on a child, and whether one parent has made false allegations of abuse or has chronically denied or minimized the parenting time of the other parent.

Supporters of the bill argue that current law is outdated and the courts are weighted heavily in favor of mothers, so legislation is needed to ensure parents are on an equal playing field.

Concerns were raised by domestic violence advocates about the consequences of the legislation on victims of abuse. Opponents also argue that the current law allows judges to account for many factors that go into determining parenting time and gives them flexibility in cases that are often complex and difficult for everyone involved.

The issue of shared parenting time has been the subject of many pieces of legislation over the last several years. Most significantly, Governor Dayton vetoed legislation modifying the parenting time presumption in 2012, saying that he felt torn between the persuasive arguments of stakeholders on both sides but could not sign the legislation due to the uncertainty of the ramifications. He called on stakeholders to come together and find consensus.

An informal working group began meeting after the veto and their work culminated in a package of legislation that passed in 2015 addressing several elements of custody and family law. Despite years of work and concerted efforts to achieve consensus, not everyone was happy with the outcome and new proposals like the legislation this year have continued to come forward.

Members on the committee noted the number of issues in the bill will be best resolved in the Judiciary Committee. DFLers expressed concerns with the legislation but suggested moving it forward so that a more robust discussion could happen there. The bill passed and heads to the Judiciary Committee next. (SF 1295)