Controversial Mandatory Joint Custody Law Passes House Panel

Potential new legislation, aiming to drastically change Michigan child custody laws, recently passed the Michigan House Judiciary Committee. We recently shared introductory information on the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Jim Runestad, R- White Lake. Now that it has passed the Judiciary Committee, the bill still must make it through the full State House, Senate, and be signed by Governor Snyder to become law.

In the weeks since being introduced, we have had time to learn more about the bill and hear supporting and opposing viewpoints. Here is what you need to know.

About the Bill
Unless a divorce case includes substantiated allegations of domestic violence, the new law would require judges to award joint child custody. Child support would still be determined based on the number of overnights the children are with each parent, but parents would also be limited to a maximum 200 overnights per year. Additional provisions in the bill would prohibit a parent from moving more than 80 miles away from the other parent (100 miles under current custody laws) and require judges to significantly weigh custody preferences for children 16 years or older.

Support
Rep. Runestad has said that the evolution of parenting over the past 40 years has led to a need to reform how judges award custody. He believes the submitted bill creates equal protection and rights for cases with two capable, loving parents while also removing the wide discretion of individual judges. He added, “Custody arrangements are not determined by the kind of parent that you are, but the judge in the county. We have study after study of the benefits of shared parenting.” Supporters of the bill are not looking to rush the bill through, allowing time for dialogue with all stakeholders.

Opposition
The bill has already faced opposition from members of the legal community and advocates against domestic violence. Rebecca Shiemke of the Michigan Poverty Law Program said, “This bill presumes that one form of custody is best for all families and that is equal time… and that is not necessarily true.” Opponents also believe the bill does not account for many logistical considerations that could impact children, such as the impact shared parenting could have on job prospects. Shiemke also sees the possibility for parents to avoid higher support payments while not following the equal time mandate under the bill.

The bill passed the Judiciary Committee on a 6-3 party line vote, with Republican support and Democrat opposition.

Runestad said they do not intend to have the House vote on the bill before they adjourn for the summer, so it may be some time before we have further updates on this bill. If you are interested in learning more about how this legislation could impact you, we would be happy to talk with you!