There is a new bill waiting for a decision in the Pennsylvania Legislature. House Bill 463, the Presumptive Joint-Custody law, would automatically give each parent equal custody of their children. It would require parents to submit a parenting plan and give the judge the authority to order counseling for them, but would also leave the door open for appeals by both parents for a different custody arrangement.
At the present time, Pennsylvania decides most custody cases on a case-by-case basis with a judge deciding custody based on the “best interest of the child.”
As you can imagine, fathers in Pennsylvania are in favor of House Bill 463 passing and becoming law. “Not everybody is a deadbeat dad,” said Mark Carrol, spokesman for the central Pennsylvania chapter of Fathers4Justice. “I work with a lot of fathers who just want to help raise their children. ... The bottom line is, children need both parents but, for whatever reasons, the courts are biased. Eighty-five percent of the time when dad goes into court asking for more time with his kids, the judge says no.”
Some have differing opinions. “I don’t disagree that both parents need to get involved in the child’s life, but if those two parents don’t get along that does not bode well for a (50/50) shared-custody arrangement,” she said. “My concern is any type of presumption of joint custody will decimate the best interest of the child standard. I believe starting from that presumption takes away all the discretion of the court and the judge, who is the fact finder and who hears from both sides what is going on and makes the final determination of what is in best interest of the child,” says Mary Burchik, chairwoman of the Lebanon County Bar Association’s Family Law Committee.
Mark Carrol is right, not every father is a deadbeat dad and there are many fathers out there who want nothing more than to help raise their children. What about those fathers who are deadbeat dads though? Or, even worse, fathers or mothers who are abusive?
How does a presumptive joint custody law benefit a child in danger of being abused by a parent? House Bill 463 leaves open the option to appeal the custody arrangement but what does the child who is in danger of abuse do while waiting on an appeal.
I don’t agree with Ms. Burchik’s argument. If divorced parents can’t get along the child suffers no matter what the custody arrangement. For the life of me, I can’t see how a good father spending more time with his child can be more damaging just because he doesn’t get along with his ex.
Then there is the idea she has that presumptive joint custody will destroy the best interest of the child standard. When children have two loving parents, nothing would serves a child’s interest more than spending equal time with each parent. If left up to judges, as Ms. Burchik suggests nothing will change and I can’t remember the last time I heard from anyone who got a judgment from a judge that actually took into consideration…”the best interest of the child.”
I’m all for equal/shared custody. I think the damage done to children when parents’ divorce would diminish greatly if both parents played an equal role in children’s lives post divorce. We can’t assume that both parents are good parents though. When that is done there is a danger of children being placed with a parent who will do harm. That is unacceptable!
We need to find a way to make the playing field equal when it comes to child custody but I don’t think making the presumption that both parents are good parents is the cure for the problem.