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Florida Legislature Passes Bill on Shared Parenting

Updated: Gov. Rick Scott on April 15, 2016, chose to veto this legislation, writing in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner:

“Current law directs a judge to consider the needs and interests of the children first when determining a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule. This bill has the potential to upend that policy in favor of putting the wants of a parent before the child’s best interest by creating a premise of equal time sharing.”

Original story: The Florida Legislature passed a bill March 8 that would make shared parenting — an arrangement in which children spend equal time with each parent after divorce — the norm in Florida, rather than sole custody.

Following passage by the Senate and House of Representatives, the bill now awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.

Ned Holstein, founder and board chairman of the National Parents Organization, said he supports Scott signing the bill into law.

Shared parenting improves children's grades, decreases their use of drugs and alcohol and reduces rates of teen pregnancy, he said.

"I don't understand why he would not sign it," he said. "What's not to like?"

Children raised by single parents account for 90 percent of homeless and runaway youth and 71 percent of high school drop-outs, according to research done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Justice and the Census Bureau.

“What used to be taught decades ago was that kids needed one home after divorce,” Holstein said. “That sounds sort of nice. But it’s a slogan, and it wasn’t based on research.”

Attitudes of women being nurturers and fathers being breadwinners fueled the push for sole custody in the past, Holstein said.

“We know in the modern world that those gendered stereotypes have broken down," he said.

Similar legislation supporting shared parenting arrived at Scott’s desk in 2013, and he vetoed it.

Holstein said Scott had concerns about the bill’s retroactive provisions – meaning it affected parents who were already divorced without shared parenting.

The current bill is not retroactive, Holstein said.

“I think it’s too bad for those kids whose parents got divorced in the past,” Holstein said about the current bill’s lack of retroactive provisions, “but sometimes going forward is the best you can do.”

Shared parenting isn’t just beneficial for children, Holstein said. The parents also reap rewards.

Divorce cases that presume sole custody create an environment in which one parent is the winner and one is the loser, he said.

“Who wouldn’t want to be the winner?” Holstein asked. “So they fight, and those fights leave lasting bitterness and hostility that trickles down to the children and poisons their environment.”

But there is opposition to the bill, with the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar objecting to it for multiple reasons.

Maria C. Gonzalez, chair of the Family Law Section, said the bill creates a presumption of equal time with each parent, but this presumption doesn't necessarily lead to parents practicing equal time.
Parents who are granted equal shared parenting may not follow through, thus leaving one parent paying more child support than the other and, overall, decreasing the amount of child support, she said.

The bill creates a standard in situations that may need to be considered on a family-by-family basis, Gonzalez said.

"There are so many factors," she said. "I mean, we're talking about humans. We're talking about families. How can you have a cookie cutter?"

Gonzalez also opposes the bill's requirement that judges put detailed personal information about parents in writing, thus making damaging information available as public records that children can access in the future.

Holstein said shared parenting isn’t always recommended, like in cases in which parents experience domestic abuse or drug and alcohol abuse.

But overall, parents who practice shared parenting tend to develop a healthier relationship post-divorce, he said, noting that the practice is slowly becoming the standard across the country.

In 2015, nearly 20 states considered bills that would change laws regarding parenting after divorce, according to the Huffington Post.

“It's belated, but thank goodness it's happening,” Holstein said. “We're delighted to see movement toward shared parenting all over the U.S. because it will make children happier and more successful human beings."

Alexandra is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.