May 24, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Media Give Fair Hearing to Kansas Bill Proposing Equal Time for Divorcing Parents

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From past experience, one would think the very fact that conservative Republican Sen. Steve Fitzgerald filed a bill on the rights of divorcing parents would have caused the media to reject it.

For whatever reason, that did not happen. Jonathan Shorman of the Wichita Eagle rose above the temptation to politicize the debate, and the Kansas City Star re-published Shorman’s fair-minded article.

According to Fitzgerald, Senate Bill 257 “simply requires the court to begin with the presumption that the couple should work out a plan between themselves for shared parenting. It further requires that, if an agreement cannot be reached, the involvement of both parents be maximized and each parent be considered capable, unless there is convincing evidence otherwise.”

Fitzgerald believes the new law would end “high stakes, winner take all contests” between divorcing parents.

In his Eagle article Shorman gives Will Mitchell, chair of the Kansas chapter of the National Parents Organization, ample space to argue for the bill’s passage.

A teacher and father of two, Mitchell emerged from his custody proceedings with less time with his children than his ex-wife was granted. “I was brokenhearted walking out of that courtroom,” said Mitchell. “I couldn’t understand someone who had never committed a crime in his life, was a veteran, was a youth minister, was a teacher–someone the government trusts with their children as far as the school setting–yet with my own children I’m still not counted as equal.”

According to Mitchell, his fate is not unique. Thousands of Kansas parents have endured what he has because judges are not ordering equal time for parents. “Two parents should be equally involved in their kids’ lives,” said Mitchell.

Arguing against Mitchell in Shorman’s article is Ron Nelson, an Overland Park family law attorney. Nelson believes that the law would allow the stronger of the parents to manipulate the weaker one. “This is a bad bill,” said Nelson. “It is bad for children and it is bad for families. It encourages dysfunction and encourages lack of cooperation between parents.”

On the ideological front, Shorman quotes from the leftist National Organization for Women which opposed a similar bill in Florida: “Another egregious injustice in the bill is the attempt to force 50/50 timesharing on all families regardless of the circumstances,” claimed NOW. “The individual needs of the family and child should be the leading consideration by judges when deciding custody, not a generic formula that puts the child’s welfare at risk.”

NOW’s “regardless of circumstances” claim seems like political hyperbole. As Fitzgerald notes, the 50-50 arrangement holds “unless there is convincing evidence otherwise.”

Shorman gives Fitzgerald the final word: “What we believe we see is a prejudice in favor of the mother, which is understandable. But we feel that it’s inappropriate. If it ever were appropriate, it’s no longer appropriate. We believe that the child is best served with maximum exposure to both parents, so that’s the intent. It’s for the good of the child.”

The bill gets a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

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