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Doing the right thing isn’t always popular. But when it is, as it is with a current family court reform bill moving through the Michigan House, there should be no stopping us.

The latest scientific research shows that shared parenting—where children spend as much time as possible with each parent—is in the best interest of children after divorce or separation. And a recent poll conducted by the Market Resource Group showed that a whopping 84% of registered voters in Michigan support joint custody and equal parenting time after divorce or separation, as long as there is no history of abuse, addiction or mental illness.

This poll is a wake-up call for policymakers. The status quo is not working.

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With the transition into fall, a new political season heats up — the legislative pre-game. Virginia’s lawmakers are starting to map out plans for what they hope to accomplish when the state legislature reconvenes. Given this timing, we would like to call attention to critical facts on child well being:

During child custody battles in Virginia, and in nearly every other state, judges hold the “best interests of the child” as the standard when assessing parents’ claims. But all too often, courts use old-fashioned and outdated gender roles when interpreting these “best interests of the child” standards and ultimately determining custody.

The result: Roughly 80 percent of the time, courts award sole custody to mothers. Aside from the increased risk factors to which children raised by just one parent are subjected (school dropouts, teen pregnancy, teen suicides, etc.), there is clearly an imbalance when it comes to custody decisions. Mounting, undeniable and empirical evidence proves that shared parenting — a flexible arrangement where children spend as much time as possible with each parent after a divorce or separation — better serves children.

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Missouri members of the Massachusetts-based National Parents Organization say an appeals court ruling last month ignored a 2016 law that reformed family court operations.

That law, included in House Bill 1550, was signed by then-Gov. Jay Nixon and took effect Aug. 28, 2016.

Among its provisions, the new law encourages courts to "maximize to the highest degree the amount of time the child may spend with each parent."

But the ruling by a three-judge Western District panel upheld "the lower court decision to limit a fit, loving and involved father's parenting time to one night a week and every other weekend (and) made no mention of" the new law, the NPO said in a news release.

"As a Missouri mother, grandmother and someone who worked tirelessly last year on behalf of our children to make this law a reality, I urge all state lawmakers and citizens to join me in condemning the disregard for the law," Linda Reutzel, chair of the national group's Missouri chapter, said.

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Missouri members of the Massachusetts-based National Parents Organization say an appeals court ruling last month ignored a 2016 law that reformed family court operations.

That law, included in House Bill 1550, was signed by then-Gov. Jay Nixon and took effect Aug. 28, 2016.

Among its provisions, the new law encourages courts to "maximize to the highest degree the amount of time the child may spend with each parent."

But the ruling by a three-judge Western District panel upheld "the lower court decision to limit a fit, loving and involved father's parenting time to one night a week and every other weekend (and) made no mention of" the new law, the NPO said in a news release.

"As a Missouri mother, grandmother and someone who worked tirelessly last year on behalf of our children to make this law a reality, I urge all state lawmakers and citizens to join me in condemning the disregard for the law," Linda Reutzel, chair of the national group's Missouri chapter, said.

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Despite welcome changes in SB 125, National Parents Organization opposes passage of the bill in its present form. This is because NPO’s primary focus is on the promotion of true shared parenting, where both parents are fully engaged in the day-to-day, hands-on work of raising the children. More than 30 years of scientific research has shown, as conclusively as these things can be shown, that this is the best arrangement for children, even when the parents don’t initially agree to it. It should be the default outcome when parents separate. And SB 125 does not encourage this sort of equal co-parenting; instead, it creates contrary incentives and treats parents who are sharing in the raising of their children unfairly. And, not surprisingly, it is the children who are the innocent victims of this unfairness.

Why? Well, start with an uncontroversial assumption: child support is for the children. That seems incontestable. But, if child support is for the children, then when the children have two homes, the child support funds should be divided between the two homes in proportion to the expected expenses on the children in each home. If child support is for the children, then child support should follow the children.

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Proposed legislation encouraging shared parenting time in cases of divorce was the topic of discussion at a “Townhall Hearing” in Howell.

The informational meeting was held by the National Parents Organization Thursday at the Howell Opera House. Approximately 70 people attended to learn more and offer input on House Bill 4691, which is sponsored by White Lake Republican State Representative Jim Runestad. The bill would require judges to award joint legal custody of children to divorcing parents, with exceptions such as a parent’s history of domestic violence. It would also prohibit a parent from moving more than 80 miles away from the other parent and gives substantial weight to a child’s custody preference if they’re 16 or older. 

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The Ohio Senate is considering a bill that would create significant changes to Ohio’s child-support laws, and they are certainly in need of revisions.

Senate Bill 125 would ensure that low-income child support obligors are not driven into abject poverty by the child-support obligations imposed on them — a result that winds up hurting those that the laws are supposed to benefit.

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Don Hubin, the chairman of the Ohio Executive Committee of the National Parents Organization, says the bill has some good merits but it is also fundamentally flawed.

“What Senate Bill 125 does right is to finally provide an appropriate self-support reserve,” said Hubin.

But he says how it changes some of the calculations will do more harm than good.

“When parents are living separately we want the norm to be both parents have a home for the children; the children don’t have one home where they live and another where they visit; they have two homes where they live,” said Hubin. “Ohio law is very far behind the curve on encouraging this and this child support bill doesn’t help.”

The National Parents Organization wants to see less of a cliff when determining payments based on the number of days children spend with each parent.

“Deciding whether the children move from one house to the other one hour earlier on Friday can make thousands of dollars of difference; that’s just a recipe for needless litigation,” said Hubin.

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"We have a real problem and you know it or you wouldn't be here," state Sen. Wayne Wallingford told the crowd of about 30. "The ones that really get hurt are the children. ... When you go from being a parent to a visitor, something's wrong."

The meeting was hosted by Americans For Equal Shared Parenting, a group committed to reforming the way judges award child custody after parents divorce.

State Reps. Kathy Swan of Cape Girardeau and Rick Francis of Perryville also attended the meeting. The legislators said there are plans to prefile at least one bill in December designed to put mothers and fathers on equal footing instead of granting mothers a prefunctory advantage. The bill -- which will be a revised version of one previously submitted -- would seek to impose "rebuttable presumption of equally shared parenting," requiring judges to begin with the presumption both parents are "fit and willing," explained Linda Reutzel, the state chairwoman for the National Parents Organization.

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A new bill in Lansing could help give parents the chance to share custody of their children if they have been determined to be fit parents.

It is especially geared to help children get through a process that can be an emotional roller coaster.

"I wouldn't wish that on my own worst enemy. It's the hardest thing in the world to wake up everyday without your kids," said Derek Jaeger, with the National Parents Organization.

He supports the newly proposed bill that would give parents in custody cases equal time with their children. It's called the Michigan Shared Custody Act.

"It calls for a presumption of equal shared parenting be the starting point," said Linda Wright, with National Parents Organization.

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