Child Custody Bill Sparks Debate, Part I

Written by Rebecca T. Dickinson

Edited by Emily Weaver

Supported by Jeremy Walters

Photo courtesy of Modernmom.com

The controversy behind South Carolina joint custody legislative bill H. 4614 inspires arguments more complicated than A.P. Calculus and more emotional than a heart-grinding epic film.

The bill and its predecessors, H. 4095 and S. 373, have inspired more organizations in South Carolina to speak out. Beneath the numbers is a discussion about how language and law could offer equality to parents.

“I love the legal system,” said Camden lawyer, David Reuwer. “… I believe in the family court system. Do I believe it is broken in [the child custody] category, the answer is yes, because if we’re not talking about abuse; if we’re not talking about neglect; if we’re not talking about crime, then the beginning point ought to be shared, joint custody.”

In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 82.2 percent of custodial parents were mothers and one in six were fathers, “which were not statistically different from 1994.”

“If you look at a thousand decisions, it doesn’t mean the mother gets custody in fifty percent now and the father gets custody in fifty percent,” said long-term family court lawyer Dixon Lee III of McLaren & Lee. “The practical result is different from that, because people more commonly elect for the mother to be the homemaker and childrearer, and for the father to be the wage earner.”

Words in Motion

Jeremy Walters, a Fort Mill carpenter, represented himself in a three-year custody case at the end of which he learned he would have his son every other weekend. According to Walters, a judge claimed he did not work with the court to provide the information it needed to determine whether or not he could have a shot at joint custody. Walters’ reason: he thought he was set up by his ex-wife’s lawyer.

“Many lawyers, far too many, practice ambush law where they then try to take affidavits—which are nothing but written, signed documents that are important, but people will sign anything … sometimes—and they try to ambush the one side into declaring the other side unfit,” Reuwer said.

According to South Carolina Coalition 4 Parents and Children President Joe Carter the problem is not the lawyers, but the law itself.

Distressed by the court’s decision, Walters lobbied with Carter and the coalition for a bill known as H. 4095, written by Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) in 2011 and 2012. Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-District 27) also introduced a child custody bill, S. 373.

“When I was debating this bill, I used ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ when Robin Williams said, ‘Taking my children is taking the air I breathe,’ and I understand that,” Pitts said.

According to Pitts, H. 4095 addressed the time element for parents and children. Sheheen’s bill, S. 373, focused on the decision making process.

“My goal was to get a good conversation going about the family court system and how we could improve it,” Sheheen said.

The driving force for a new child custody bill is to make court hearings—particularly temporary hearings—fairer for parents and children. Noncustodial parents want to be more than a child support check and hope for more time than the cliché of two weekends a month said shared custody advocates.

The background of this article is recorded in posts The Crossroads of a Writer, Part I and Part II. This is an issue that affects most states in America. Part II will be posted Sunday.

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14 thoughts on “Child Custody Bill Sparks Debate, Part I

  1. This is such an emotionally charged issue and so individually-based on each family’s needs, I think. It is too bad that divorce often becomes a firefight with child custody as the pivot point. As a child of divorce (now over 30 years ago), I doubt much has changed, but I wish I knew the answers. Thanks for this information!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment!

      You are right. It is a very emotionally charged issue. I sought to write an unbiased article. It was originally written as a larger article for a magazine. I had to split it in half for the blog, so every part will come across once part II is out.

      I hope everyone is able to take something from it. I don’t know what the answer is. Thank you, again!

  2. Great article hon, it’s like that here in the UK too :(

    My brothers ex was given custody of their son but my brother had access rights, a set time each week. His ex just didn’t turn up each week. They had to go back to court about 3 times, it took a good 18 months to finally have the judge threaten her (i can’t remember now what with) and during that whole time it was my nephew who suffered :(

    Like you say, what’s the answer? :(

    Xx

    1. The children are the ones who suffer, and it seems in the worst cases, sometimes, children are treated as property. One lawyer said we forget the children themselves are human. I don’t think there is one answer. I think some people want to work together. I think some are in it for the money, and some are in it to gain complete loyalty of the child(ren).

  3. Hi,
    I am happy to hear that this situation is finally being addressed. It is my belief that both parents should have custody. It took both to bring the child or children in the world and the father has just as much right as the mother. I hope that this brings about change in the entire United States and the Western world.
    Ciao,
    Patricia

    1. Patricia, thank you for your comment. I hope to see some sort of change to. I don’t know what it will be, but I will write the stories. I think it is changing in the Western World. I hope it does anyways. I know from the closest of personal experiences that one parent who tries to keep his or her child from the ex-spouse only creates a bitter, angry adult.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I don’t know what the law will do. I’ve heard many say in my state it is just the beginning. It probably is. I don’t know what other legislation will changes. Lawyers and the judge I interviewed told me that the majority of parents try to create their own plan and decide everything without going to court. By going to court, a judge told me, the parents are putting an adult decision in the judge’s hands. An adult decision the parents should make together. That is another opinion.

      1. Probably the most sensible one, but when parents split up they don’t always make fair and reasonable decisions, if hurt by the other. They need to look at it from the childs point of view and how it will benefit the most.

  4. The key to the whole situation is for the adults to take their own selfish needs out of the equation. For instance, with my own ex- I approached many situations from the piont of view, “If we were still married, what would the kids be doing?” If the answer was, “Yes they would be attending a certain activity with him” then I would make sure that happened. Custodial parents should NEVER knowingly make plans for the child on the other parents time without first discussing it with that parent. Also, if his parents / brothers were going to be in town, I made sure the kids had as much time with them as possible. As my two have grown into young adults they have expressed appreciation for how he and I have handled things and always allowing them “extra” time when requested.

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