TOPEKA -- The Senate Judiciary Meeting room recently was filled with powerful personal testimonies as a new amendment regarding temporary joint custody was proposed with Senate Bill 157.
The bill was originally introduced on Feb. 13 and could potentially create a presumption in favor of shared parenting time for temporary orders. Sen. Richard Hilderbrand (R-Galena) proposed the bill with at least 16 other senators in favor of it.
This bill means that in a court that deems a temporary parenting plan, both parents can be presumably authorized for equal care and legal custody of the child. This includes the designation of a temporary residence, parental rights and responsibilities regarding the child’s health, education and welfare, and a set schedule for time spent with each parent.
A handful of citizens, including parent Ryan O’Neal, spoke in favor of the bill at the March 7 hearing.
“I’ve literally had to fight for every single second to be with my son from having false allegations against me where the court is designed to take that into count,” O’Neal said. “I understand everybody wants to keep kids safe, but that’s the real problem right now. The courts aren’t keeping kids safe; they are hurting them by keeping them away from one of their parents.”
According to the fiscal note, the presumption can be rebutted with the prevalence of evidence that is in the best interest of the child.
There was opposition to the bill in the meeting as well. One opponent was District Court Judge Kevin M. P. O’Grady, who works on cases for divorce, marriage, protect and release, and stalking that involves children. Though he agreed with the fact that fathers need to be involved in children’s lives, he doesn’t believe passing a bill like this would come without issues.
“This bill talks about temporary orders. I predict that a bill of this height is going to increase conflict, increase expense and create more hearings,” O’Grady said.
Dr. Merlin G. Wheeler also spoke against the bill, stating that some parents may have ulterior motives for shared parenting.
“It is my observation that the vast majority of the claims made for shared custody come from the parent who is most likely the one required to pay child support and is often based upon the misguided assumption that divided parenting means that they won’t have to pay support,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler emphasized the fact that most parents in these custody battles are not prepared to take on the implications of shared custody.
“Until we have cooperative parents who are willing to make the sacrifices in order to make this system work, it’s not going to be something we are going to solve by making the presumption,” Wheeler said.
The fiscal note states that the bill “has the potential to increase the time spent by district court judicial personnel in reviewing parenting plans. However, it is not possible to estimate the amount of time that would be spent on those plans.”
If the bill is passed, it will go into effect on July 1 2019.
Olivia Schmidt is a University of Kansas senior majoring in journalism.