SPRINGFIELD — A bill passed by the Missouri House would split child custody equally between divorced parents when proceedings begin.
The bill, Missouri House Bill 229, was sparked by a group that advocates for more equality in those situations.
Mark Ludwig is the Executive Director of that group, Americans for Equal Shared Parenting. He says that the way things go in paternity and divorce courts can end up hurting the child in the long run, and he says things need to change.
Ludwig is a divorced father who hails from St. Louis.
“The status qou has been for one parent to become the primary custodial parent and the other to be the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent usually is relegated to an every other weekend type scenario,” says Ludwig.
He says these types of custody arrangements can leave children feeling confused about the situation with mom and dad. He says studies have shown that kids generally aren’t sure how to process their thoughts.
“Number one, Mom and Dad aren’t together anymore. They don’t understand that. They’ve got that first trauma, but they are hit usually immediatly with that secondary trauma of ‘I only get to see one of my parents every other weekend and I don’t understand why,” says Ludwig.
Ludwig and his team have backed House Bill 229, which would change the law to start out with a 50-50 split for custody when things begin in paternity cases.
“That’s not a mandate of a 50-50. We just say the starting point should be 50-50. That when two parents walk into a courtroom, the child should have the presumption that they have equal access to both of those parents unless one of them is proven to be unfit, unwilling, or unable,” Ludwig says.
Attorney Chad Courtney works many paternity and divorce cases, and he says the several factors make it tough to work out custody agreements.
“You have to look at work schedules, you have to look at where people are living. You have to look what the kids’ school schedules are. You have to look at and make sure that you’re fitting it to be in the kids’ best interest and not simply one parent or the other,” says Ludwig.
HB 229 cleared the House, and will head to the Senate. All it needs to become law is a passing vote on the senate floor, and a signature from Governor Mike Parson.