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EDITOR'S NOTE: The following commentary on the assassination of Colorado House Bill 02-1190, which called for presumptive shared parenting, by the entrenched powers which benefit from family disintegration appeared in the Wednesday, April 10 edition of The Denver Post. The executive director of the CCJ was interviewed for this column.
A good bill was ambushed
By Al Knight Denver Post Columnist Wednesday, April 10, 2002 -
There are, it's been said, dozens of ways to kill legislation but just one way to pass it.
A week ago, a committee of the Colorado legislature used a particularly devious method to kill a bill that would have greatly improved the way the state handles child custody issues.
The measure, which would have established a presumption that divorcing parents should have equal responsibibilty for raising their children, died when opponents managed to attach a fiscal note that wrongly overstated what it would cost to administer.
It needs to be emphasized that the family bar, sometimes called the divorce bar, opposed HB 1190 precisely because it posed a threat to the divorce industry. That group includes divorce lawyers, the special advocates who advise the court, the social service agencies that often get involved, the judges who issue orders and the assorted medical and psychological professionals who are sometimes consulted.
The divorce industry operates, more or less, on the "Send money, honey" principle - the father should send monthly child support checks to the mother and typically expect to see his offspring every other weekend.
The recent popularity of divorce in our culture has produced millions of what are rightly called "fatherless children." These are children in whose lives fathers are minor factors.
The bill before the legislature this year was an attempt to change this culture. The law provided for all of the reasonable exceptions to the presumption of shared parenting, especially situations in which one parent had been abusive to children.
Divorcing parents could have been expected to agree on child-rearing arrangements and the courts would have been expected to intervene only in those situations where one or both parents simply refused to cooperate. In theory, at least, the courts' work would have been diminished.
Incredibly, the fiscal note attached to the bill anticipated the exact opposite. New personnel would be needed, the legislature was told. Each case might take up to 30 minutes more of the judge's time. There would be more contentious cases, not fewer, and the indigent would need to be provided with more expert help at the state's expense.
This is not only counterintuitive, it is also illogical. The current law requires the court to determine the "best interests of the child," and in doing that it must consider "all relevant factors." Common sense suggests that this takes far more time than it would if the presumption is in favor of equal parenting time. The fiscal note very nearly became absurd when it claimed that reading a parenting plan under current law is more time-consuming than reading one under the new law. Why?
Sadly, the fiscal note was based almost entirely upon the views of sitting judges, who, after all, are not disinterested scholars. No one asked the thousands of people who have suffered under the existing system. It is an undeniable fact that the family court system has helped to produce the expectation that some men will simply walk away from parental responsibility, a system in which the interests of women are too often substituted for the interests of children. The nation is paying a heavy price for this arrangement.
HB 1190 was ambushed by interests that benefit from this system. The fiscal note was no more than a pretext.
A.M. Keith, former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court - who, during his years in private practice, was a divorce lawyer - summed it up best.
"It is difficult for me to see how one can come up with these figures" on probable impact of the bill. "I believe this presumption (in favor of shared parenting) will help settle at least 25 to 30 percent of all child custody cases. The attorneys will begin to concentrate on how these two parents will parent their children in two separate homes instead of trying to prove who is the better parent. I rarely had a contested custody case in which both parents weren't good parents and that is why they were contesting custody. I have been involved in over 1,200 divorces. This bill is a step in the right direction."
And, as it turns out, a missed opportunity. _________________________________________________________________ Al Knight (email@example.com) ) is a member of The Denver Post editorial board. His column appears Wednesday and Sunday. All contents Copyright 2002 The Denver Post or other copyright holders. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed for any commercial purpose.