The Florida Senate voted this week to change state divorce policy by adding a requirement that judges make equally-split time between parents the assumptive action in divorce cases and that would direct both parents to provide a detailed order if there is any deviation from the norm.
Currently, there are 20 different models that judges must consider before they issue a divorce order. The criteria include "frequent and continuing contact with both parents" and the child's best interest. However, the sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon), said that SB 250 is aimed at promoting the child's well-being, which will be attained if kids split their time evenly between both parents when that is possible.
Miami Herald's Michael Auslen reports that Lee's bill passed 23-15, but the measure has not yet been voted on in the House. There are still other changes to the state's divorce laws that have yet to be discussed.
Robert Bauserman, a former psychologist at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, created a compilation of studies that examined the difference between children who grew up in joint custody situations and kids living with one parent.
Bauserman discovered that young people who spent some time with each parent were less likely to have behavioral issues, had higher self-esteem, and exhibited better academic performance. He also found, on the other hand, that parents were happier if they did not have to split the time with their former spouses.
Critics of the bill say there is not enough information to support the notion that splitting time evenly between parents is the optimal solution. They advise that such a move would lead to court backlogs as parents ask judges to amend their custody decision because their custody agreements are not working as they had planned.
Others say that having a fixed 50/50 custody plan could prejudice judges and does not take into consideration the unique differentiations involved in finding what is best for the child.
But Lee responds that the law allows judges to use the 20 criteria to deviate from the evenly-split sharing. He added that it was a civil rights matter.
"We have legislation moving year in and year out — some this year — that is designed to create equal rights, but somehow when it comes to the courts it's not important?" Lee said.
There are further issues being debated in the Senate centered on alimony and divorce laws which will continue to be negotiated in the two chambers. The House's version (HB455) does not have a time-sharing provision, but it could be changed.
WFSU Public Media's Regan McCarthy quoted a statement from an interview with Lee:
"I made a promise to a couple of people that are very, very close to me that if I ever had a chance to do something to reduce the amount of litigation in our family law system, if I ever had a chance to create greater predictability based on the facts of the case and not the whims of the system, that I would do it."
Joan Younger Meek, a pediatrician and member of the Florida Breastfeeding Coalition, said the 50/50 solution could be harmful to young children. She explained that for children in the early stages of infancy, the development of a strong attachment is extremely necessary. She continued by pointing out that breastfeeding would be difficult when the 50/50 time splitting model was in place.
Of the 12 female senators, eight opposed the bill, writes Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Ledger Media Group. In the House, House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman (R-Melbourne) said:
"We are concentrating on alimony reform. Anything to do with not alimony is not germane in the House."