Dads disappointed by child custody changes

By Brad Fulton
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Father’s rights advocates say they are down but not out after passage of a substitute bill originally aimed at giving both parents joint custody rights in divorce cases.

The legislation is House Bill 84, sponsored by Delegate David Albo, R-Springfield. Originally, it stated that in a divorce “in which custody or visitation is at issue, there shall be a rebuttable assumption that it is in the best interests of the child that the parents be awarded joint physical custody and that no parent’s share of physical custody shall be for a period of less than two-fifths of the child’s time.”

Fathers and their advocates strongly supported that wording.

“No man can be a father to his children on the basis of seeing them every other weekend,” said Kenneth Skilling, a Fairfax County resident and former president of Fathers for Virginia, which provides support for divorced fathers.

But the language was changed radically as HB 84 made its way through the legislative process. The substitute bill approved by the General Assembly and sent this week to Gov. Bob McDonnell omits any mention of the presumption of joint custody. It simply states that judges must communicate the reasoning for their decisions on custody or visitation to all parties involved.

“The bill has unfortunately dramatically changed from the last one that was introduced,” said Diane Poljacik, a child custody mediator who supported the original wording of HB 84.

She said the measure that was passed “does nothing to change anything of importance. Judges are already supposed to communicate the basis for their decision. So what does this change?”

The text of HB 84 was changed in the House Courts of Justice Committee. The substitute bill then was approved unanimously by the House and the Senate.

Current Virginia law does not state a preference for either parent in custody cases. It states:

“In determining custody, the court shall give primary consideration to the best interests of the child. The court shall assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children. As between the parents, there shall be no presumption or inference of law in favor of either. The court shall give due regard to the primacy of the parent-child relationship but may upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence that the best interest of the child would be served thereby award custody or visitation to any other person with a legitimate interest. The court may award joint custody or sole custody.”

But in practice, courts overwhelmingly favor mothers over fathers on custody issues, father’s rights advocates say.

Skilling cited a 2011 study by the Virginia Department of Child Support Enforcement, which found that only 6 percent of custodial parents were male. In the remaining instances, fathers were awarded visitation and legally relegated to the term “visitor.”

Supporters of the original draft of HB 84 gave a series of emotional testimony before the House Courts of Justice Committee in January.

“I haven’t seen my children in over two years because of the way the court system currently functions,” said David Scolamiero, who spoke on behalf of Virginia Equal Parents, a group seeking reform of custody laws.

“Instead of a father having to fight for time with the children he loves, the legal system would begin with the presumption that he merits equal time,” Scolamiero said.

HB 84 wasn’t the only bill advocating joint custody in divorce cases. HB 606, sponsored by Delegate James LeMunyon, R-Chantilly, contained similar language. It sought to establish “a presumption in child custody cases that an award of joint legal custody, with physical custody, to the extent feasible, shared equally between the parties, is in the best interests of the child.”

LeMunyon’s bill died in the House Courts of Justice Committee.

Supporters of such legislation are looking forward to next year’s legislation session. They plan to push for a joint custody bill again before the 2013 General Assembly.

Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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6 Comments

  1. I live in Pensylvania. A similar law was passed here too.
    Went to court shortly after it’s passage. I can only say
    that nothing has changed. In fact, application of any
    child custody law that would give equality to both genders is futile. One major reason is that the Judge is
    just that judge, jury and executioner. The courts are firmly entrenched and vested in awards that remain unchanged. This has really become a civil rights issue
    where the courts believe they have no responsibility. Dad has little or no rights in US family courts. Simply
    presecution of men inside the family unit.

  2. Children crave a regular routine & boundaries. A regular schedule of shared parenting worked for our child, it was changes in the routine that caused upset. They fully understand at quite a young age mummy’s rules & daddy’s rules, and very quickly learn how to get the best from it.

    It is only when one parent’s parenting is questionable that problems start to occur, I regret that my experience it is the feminist politics of cutting a child out of a father’s life has far far greater effect on the outcomes from going through the court system. In my experience, the child’s best interests have no influence on the outcome, that is after 7 sets of proceedings over our child.

  3. A rebuttable presumption of at least 1/3 parenting time (minimum) for either parent, is in line with the majority of the child development research over the past 10 years. This minimum time has been found necessary in order to have an “authoritative parenting” relationship with a child (look it up!), which in turn, is a necessary aspect of maintaining the emotional bond between a child and her/his parent.

    These “minimum parenting time” schedules actually REDUCE the “shuffling” of children between households (that “just a mom” is concerned about), compared to a “mid-week visit”. Furthermore, these ‘minimum presumptions’ 1) reduced ‘custody battles’ in Indiana after they implemented their “Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines”, 2) reflect the more likely distribution of parental responsibilities in todays intact families, and 3) replace the de facto ‘minimum parenting time’ of Every Other Weekend, which has been called “child unfriendly” by our nation’s top child development clinicians.

  4. It is never in the best interest of any child to be constantly shuffled back and forth between parents. Children need and crave stability. They do not deserve to be regulated to living out of suitcases because of the selfish needs of either parent. Yes, children need a father and a mother’s support in their life. However, as much as fathers might not like hearing it, it is a fact that the mother is typically the better one to nurture and raise the children and will provide the more stabilizing environment. I friend of mine in a neighboring state has two very miserable children who just want to live with their mother full-time, but are always shuffled back and forth due to a court system with a similar view point as what some selfish fathers just tried to get passed in Virginia. The courts and the parents need to set selfishness aside and place the simple focus on what is best for the children. Any good mother will tell you that while there might be exceptions to the rule, 40/40 or 50/50 sharing of physical custody is not good for the kids. I can tell you from experience that if a court system allowed my children to live half the time with their father it would be a disaster for them. In the little time he has with them he is constantly a bad example, will not take them to their activities, constantly breaks promises that hurts their feelings, and is only there for them when it is convenient for him, the list goes on. I am always trying to make excuses so they don’t have bad feelings toward their father. Meanwhile, I am the stable parent who takes them to school, doctor appointments, supports their interests, cooks them healthy meals every night, helps them with homework, etc., etc. So, while you are trying to pass your legislation that grants equal rights of sharing custody to fathers, think about the types of fathers to whom you are also granting more rights. Out of all the parents I know (single and married), the primary-caregiver fathers and the very involved fathers with only their children’s best interests at heart are the general exception not the rule.

  5. The article is not quite accurate. The original bill had the additional item that only in a situation of no-fault divorce then each parent would receive a minimum of 40% of their child’s time in raising their child with a rebuttable presumption. In this way children get the raising input much more equally from his or her father or mother. Fathers and mothers are unique in how they relate to their children. Generally a child receives the best kind of childhood when he or she receives constant and on-going input from his or her father and mother. This is why children from intact families generally do much better in school, are healthier and do better later in their marriages. This much more equal parenting in divorce than what has existed for decades in the Commonwealth was only to take place in no-fault divorces. This eliminated the problem of divorce being based on fault grounds in which it is more likely that it would not be good to mandate that each parent have a minimum of 40% of their child time. But, the original legislation had an additional escape clause out of this mandate of 40%, it had the item, “rebuttable presumption.” This means the judge could still not go by this mandate of 40% for each parent for good and necessary cause or reason. I was the one who gave this basic input to Delegate Dave Albo and in which he submitted to the House of Delegates. It was my hope that in no-fault divorce that even though one or both parents refuse to live together in marriage, that the debilitating effects of divorce would be lessoned with the original wording of HB84 that I had presented to Delegate Dave Albo. As secretary of Fathers for Virginia, in which Kenneth Skilling is a part of, we had hoped the long winter of family destruction in Virginia would start to come to an end. Anyone interested in working on this issue and wishing to end this winter, please contact me, D’Arcy L McGreer, at father4va5atgmail.com. Replace the “at” with “@.”

  6. I feel woman should be responsible for the support needed in raising a child. Just because they have the child shouldn’t relieve them from being responsible for using their money to support the child. In a situation where you have a father who is willing to help raise the child and provide for the child, why can’t the mother pay half and the father pay half. The dead beat Dads should be help accountable for their child. A good father shouldn’t have to rely on the mother to decide when she wants him to see the child. If they are paying medical, dental and daycare, the mother doesn’t need additional money known as childs support. The majority of the mothers use the child support money for themselves or to purchase items to persuade the child to stay with them. Any parent who puts all the weigh on child support (money) versus the child is not a good parent to me. That shows me a greedy money hungry person. The laws need to be changed where if you have a father that is doing what he should to support the child, they should get early time with the child and the mother should not be paid child support. Too many mothers are having the children as a means of getting money from the father and does not have the child’s interest at heart. Virgina needs to take stand against mothers that go after the fathers just for the money.

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