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 January 29, 2003

RE:  Senate Bill No. 60

Honorable Committee Members:

I only had two minutes last Wednesday to offer testimony to aid in the passage of Senate Bill No. 60 and definitely didn't have the opportunity to express why I believe a change in the existing child custody law is warranted.  I don't know if I will have the opportunity to again testify on behalf of Senate Bill No. 60, but I at least want to offer this as testimony to encourage your support in passing the revision of the child custody law.

I am writing you to encourage your support for Senate Bill No. 60 which will revise certain provisions relating to child custody and to provide for a shared parenting plan.  The timing is a bit ironic because currently my daughter's mother and I are in the process of determining custody arrangements for our nearly three year old daughter Xxchildxx.  Xxchildxx was born while her mother and I were attending college in xxx in the spring of 2000.  I was getting my masters degree and her mother was an undergraduate student.  She and I were engaged to be married, but separated when Xxchildxx was 10 months old after which I relocated to xxx to seek employment with state government.  Since that time I have remained an intricate part of my daughter's life maintaining a verbal agreement with Xxchildxx's mother for child support and joint custody of which I have Xxchildxx with me in my home in xxx for 1 week and 2 weekends (9 days) and she has Xxchildxx with her in xxx for 2 weeks and 1 weekend (12 days).  We have developed a consistent arrangement that Xxchildxx has adjusted to and is doing very well.  She is a very content and happy little girl who loves and depends on her mom and her dad equally because of her experiences with both parents.  I have proven to many, that fathers are capable of rearing a young daughter and I possess the skills necessary to provide for her both physically and emotionally.        

I was served with papers shortly after Christmas of 2002 by Xxchildxx's mother for primary custodial parent.  I have been informed by four different lawyers that even though I only want joint custody and I believe that Xxchildxx needs equal contact with both a mother and a father, that if this goes to trial, one parent will most likely have primary custody of our daughter and the other will end up as a non custodial parent with only limited visitation.  Because of the way the laws are written, I have been advised to file for primary custodial parent of Xxchildxx, which I would be happy to be; however I truly believe that a child who has two parents that want to be involved in the development and nurturing of that child should be entitled to do so and the laws should reinforce that.  After having conversations with Xxchildxx's mother, she has confirmed to me that she too wants both of us to be a part of our daughter's development but was advised by legal council to pursue primary custodial parent because the court system does not normally grant a joint custody or shared parenting arrangement.  It is because of our current laws that this preconceived notion exists.  She has also informed me that the only reason she served me with papers was because she wanted our arrangement in writing and didn't know how to go about getting it done.        

Xxchildxx has two loving parents and two loving homes.  Because mom and dad couldn't be parents in the same home doesn't mean they can't provide a stable and loving environment in two separate homes if some form of consistency is maintained.  Xxchildxx is the epitimy of happiness when she is at her home in xxx as well as when she is in xxx.  Xxchildxx and I have developed a bond because I have maintained an intricate part in raising my daughter since she was born and that bond should not be broken by limiting me or Xxchildxx's mother to being a visiting parent.  Xxchildxx has two loving homes and is comfortable and stable in both environments because that is what she is used to.  I don't believe it is in a child's best interest to alienate one parent, either the father or the mother, when both parents want and need to be involved in the development of a child in today's society.  I think the laws should support a shared parenting plan and not discourage either parent to use a child as leverage in order to gain custody.      

A law that supports primary custody to be given to the parent that has had the child in their custody for the majority of the time is actually providing a disincentive to keep both parents involved in the development of a child.  The way the law is now actually provides an incentive for alienating one parent or trying to convince a court system that the other parent is not fit or a detriment to the child in order to receive primary custodial care of the child.  Both Xxchildxx's mother and I are perfectly capable of raising our daughter and since we both want to be involved in the development of Xxchildxx on a daily basis, I think it is imperative to have a law that supports a shared parenting arrangement.  I don't want to have to degrade my daughter's mother, thus distancing our families, to try to convince a court system that my daughter deserves to have equal access to her father.      

A law stating primary custody should be granted to the parent who has been the primary caregiver for the child for the majority of time in the thirty days preceding the filing has the potential of awarding primary custody to a parent on a technicality.  Even though I only have Xxchildxx for 42% of the time, it is possible that I have her for more than 50% of the time during a given month depending on how the weekends fall.  Also, I initially agreed to the child custody arrangement with Xxchildxx's mother as a compromise so I hope that I would not be penalized for that.  Although not the intent of my reasons for support of this bill, maybe still worth mentioning.

There should be no underlying motive for a parent to want to alienate the other parent as the current law allows, especially not for monetary reasons or out of the preconceived notion that the court system doesn't usually grant joint custody.  There is a child support statute (25-7-6.14) that approves a shared parenting formula when both parents maintain separate homes for the child that allows for an abatement of a portion of child support if the child spends at least 10 days per month with the obligor.  This has the possibility of creating a disincentive for a shared custody arrangement.  Based on my situation, I have Xxchildxx 42.8% of the time or 156 days out of the year.  Because the current law states that a non custodial parent is only entitled to access to the child for less than 10 days out of a month, there is no incentive for the primary custodial parent to agree to a shared parenting plan or an abatement of a portion of child support or shared responsibility cross credit.  The custody law needs to compliment the child support abatement statute.  Because there is a statute that supports a shared responsibility cross credit, I believe that a child custody law should reflect that to encourage frequent, meaningful, and continuing periods of physical placement with each parent.  With the current law supporting a primary custodial parent, all of the incentives are biased toward one parent receiving the benefits including child custody, child support payments, and tax incentives for dependents making it very difficult to reach a shared parenting agreement.  

There are fathers out there today that want to raise their children and do not want be limited to a weekend parent.  The law should support any parent that wants to and is capable of being involved in the responsibilities of rearing a child.  The only way that I would have ever had a lack of a bonded relationship between my daughter and I, demonstrated a lack of commitment to raising my daughter, or shown a lack of ability to provide for my child's physical, emotional, or personal needs is if Xxchildxx's mother and I would have depended on the current system to arrange custody using today's laws shortly after we separated.  That being the case, for the last two years either Xxchildxx's mother or I would have been limited to the amount of parenting which we could have provided for our daughter causing a distancing effect and a lack of attachment with our child.  I honestly don't know who could have been capable of making that decision as to who was the more “fit” parent.  

The current system actual creates a lack of ability for the non custodial parent to encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between a child and that parent.  Let's initiate a law that encourages an equal share in the rights and responsibilities of raising a child so both parents stay involved and do not become alienated from their children.  I am confident that Xxchildxx's mother and I will develop a set of circumstances that is in the best interest of our daughter because we are both caring parents and want what is best for our daughter which is a joint custody arrangement.  What worries me is that legal council could convince a client to pursue primary custodial care for either monetary reasons or in fear that the court system will not grant a joint custody arrangement and use the current law as support.    

I am not supporting this bill and encouraging a shared parenting plan because I am opposed to paying child support.  I am supporting it because I believe in my heart that the existing system does not support what is in the best interest of my daughter, that being equal access to both a mother and a father encouraging both parents to stay involved in the development of a child.  I do however want to be sure that monetary reasons are not a deterrent against a shared custody arrangement.  I am capable of raising my daughter because I have done so since she was born and do not want to completely pay somebody else to do it for me just because the law suggests that a primary custodial parent may be in a child's best interest in some circumstances.  The law should not discourage capable parents from having access to their children just to prevent the “unfit” parents from not paying child support.  Entitle each parent to equal parenting access to the child pending the court doesn't find that such shared parenting is detrimental to the development of the child.  Then let the court system decide as to whether or not an adjustment to custody needs to be made based on both parents capabilities/desires and the adaptation of the child.  

I hope that Xxchildxx's mother and I can be the example to show that shared parenting is the best alternative for a child.  If we are committed to making it work living 200 miles apart, then I am confident that others can as well.  Don't support the existing law that discourages the possibility for a successful shared parenting plan.  Don't denounce a parent before given the opportunity to be a parent, or in my case after I have had the opportunity to prove that I am capable of raising my daughter and it is in her best interest to have me included in her life.  Let both mothers and fathers be entitled to a shared parenting plan initially and then adjust it accordingly through the court system when it is not in the child's best interest.  When Xxchildxx's mother and I decided to have a child, we accepted the responsibilities that followed.  Don't relieve me of those duties just because she and I couldn't work out our differences.  I encourage your support of Senate Bill No. 60 to modify the language relating to child custody and to provide for a shared parenting plan to allow for the opportunity for both parents, not just the primary caretaker, to offer continuous contact and provide a sense of security, nurturing, and predictability to their children when opportunities and circumstances exist.  Thank you for your time.


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