In what has become a nationally watched initiative, advocates are pushing Minnesota lawmakers to pass a bill which would create a presumption that both parents have equal child custody rights if they separate.
Under current Minnesota law, unmarried mothers are granted sole custody of a child unless a court determines otherwise. Unmarried fathers must go to court in order to obtain custody or parenting time rights. As a result, only one in six dads across the country is the custodial parent in divided families, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The bill, known as the Children's Equal and Shared Parenting Act, would provide equal treatment for fathers that could lead to rich and meaningful parental relationships. For example, children that grow up with a strong father figure have lower drop-out rates and a reduced risk of alcohol and drug abuse.
Supporters also point out that many child custody laws date back to when fathers worked while the mother stayed home. The bill would update child custody for a time when men and women work at similar rates.
Despite the potential benefits of dual custody, some people oppose the bill. These opponents worry that joint physical custody and equal shared parenting may increase the possibility of family conflict.
Proponents counter, however, that the bill would actually reduce conflict by including all concerned parents. In cases of domestic violence, the bill would not change the protections in place to help victims. Likewise, the bill would not reduce judicial discretion in such cases.
Another problem is the price tag. The Minnesota court system has estimated the bill would cost the court system $4 million annually. However, supporters disagree with the estimate's accuracy, noting that fees will bring that figure down.
Source: West Central Tribune, "Advocates push for change in Minnesota's child custody law," Anne Polta, Mar. 7, 2012