Child Custody Bill Sparks Debate, Part II

Written by Rebecca T. Dickinson

Edited by Emily Weaver

Supported by Jeremy Walters


Courtesy of http://blog.lib.umn.edu/nich0185/

Bills H. 4095 and S. 373 stirred more conversation in the state. Organizations such as the SC Association for Justice, SC Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the SC Bar and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers pressed the brakes on both bills.

“When it comes to children, families come in too many different shapes and sizes,” said father and Executive Director Michael Hemlepp of the SCAJ. “You cannot apply a cookie cutter to camels, and you certainly can’t apply a cookie cutter to children.”

Hemlepp and others disagree with the language in H. 4095. The word “presumption” has brought up more concerns than answers. In H. 4095, it is presumed both parents are awarded joint custody, defined as “equal time-sharing” unless one parent files a petition to challenge it. Sheheen’s bill also stated parents “equally share legal and joint custody of a minor child.”

“I know that [Rep. Pitts] is trying to do what’s best for kids,” said SCCADVSA Executive Director Pam Jacobs. “Unfortunately, some of the unintended consequences of giving a presumption for joint custody are that a lot of children are going to be put in a lot of dangerous situations.”

Shelia Peltzer, a member of SCC4PC with Walters, said people misunderstand the language of the bill. It is written for two good parents even if they cannot agree.

“When one parent has basically sole custody, that parent has time to alienate the child against the other parent; and usually, it’s the whole family,” Peltzer said.

Another concern was that H. 4095 was too vague and took away the judge’s discretion. According to Hemlepp, SC has highly trained judges. They are required to make hard decisions, not based on emotions, but on facts.

York County Judge David Guyton said judges don’t have much time to hear a case. In a temporary hearing, the court must consider a decision based on the information presented.

“I do think South Carolina does a better job with how custody and visitation cases are handled simply because we have our own family court judges, and we have a lot of discretion in how we handle each case,” Guyton said.

H. 4614: A Solution?

No concrete definition of joint custody exists in SC. Shared parenting advocates argue that it should include equal decision making and shared physical custody as defined in S. 373, while others believe it should be left up to a judge.

In 2004, the SC Supreme Court ruled, “Although the legislature gives family court judges the authority ‘to order joint or divided custody where the court finds it is in the best interests of the child,’ joint or divided custody should only be awarded where there are exceptional circumstances,” in the case of Patel v. Patel.

The bill H. 4614 defines joint custody as both parents having “equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions” while “a judge may designate one parent to have sole authority to make specific, identified decisions.”

The concern with joint custody is whether consistency is maintained for children. According to Lee, even if parents live in the same school district, there is a question of whether it is viable for a child to go from one parent’s home to the other parent’s during the school week.

 “Nobody loves your child like you and your ex-spouse love your child,” said Fort Mill resident and shared parenting mom, Tine Reiriz. “Nobody is going to be out for their best interest more.”

The bill, currently in the Senate, requires both parents to submit a shared parenting plan; arbitration for parents who cannot agree on important decisions about the child; and it provides for an oversight committee to examine how courts make their decisions.

Although some shared parenting advocates argue it is a “watered down” version of H. 4095, the current bill eliminated presumption of another kind.

“Right now you have a presumption that one parent is going to have custody of the child, and the other parent is going to have visitation,” said Michael B. Smith, Morton & Gettys attorney. “… Forty-six fourteen, to be the way I read it, takes away all presumptions.”

The bill has also united Democrats, Republicans and the people.

“You think that [the legislators] don’t care about you, and your voice means absolutely nothing,” Walters said. “What I’ve learned from this is that every lawmaker in the state of South Carolina cares about us.”

As written in Part I, this issue is a debate in many states.

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