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Lawmakers pushing for state standard to be 50/50 in child custody cases

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A piece of pending Missouri legislation would require judges to look at child custody situations presuming 50/50 - shared parenting - is the best option.

Rep. Kathryn Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, is sponsoring House Bill 229. She was unavailable Wednesday, but Rep. David Evans, R-West Plains, helped Swan work on the legislation and added two amendments.

Evans was a judge for 28 years, and said he saw several custody cases. He said some judges in Missouri still hold tight to the 'old-fashioned' bias that one parent, usually the mother, should have majority custody in divorce cases. However, this bill would change the way judges are to look at these cases.

"This solidifies the intent of the law for a joint custody arrangement in the state of Missouri," he said. "Most judges in the state have followed that factor in favor of joint custody. Rebuttable presumption simply means that at the beginning, that is, without any other evidence, that is what the judge must do."

In 2016, legislation passed requiring judges to look at eight different factors before deciding custody arrangements. Essentially, this meant there could be no presumed default parenting plan when deciding custody. Judges had to consider several factors.

Rep. Warren Love, R-Osceola, is a co-sponsor on the bill. He said through personal experience, he has seen friends and family go through divorce where 50/50 works and where it doesn't. He said it may not always be the right choice, but judges should look at it as the best choice.

"I think it's best for the attorneys and the judges to look at 50/50," he said. "This bill kind of changes that past tradition."

Evans added an amendment to the bill stating if parents mutually agree to a custody arrangement that's not 50/50, a hearing does not have to be held.

"The parents know better about their situation and their kids, far better than you will ever learn from a trial," he said. \

Attorney Carla Holste with Carson and Coil said she worries this legislation puts the parents' wishes above the best interest of the child. Holste was unavailable to talk on-camera, but said the legislation passed in 2016 has worked well for her when trying custody cases.

Evans also added an amendment regarding domestic violence.

"Even though joint custody is a presumption, or will be if this is passed in the state of Missouri, it does not eliminate the need to think about the most important things that are happening to the kids. If there is domestic violence, you can't forget that. You've got to have a hearing. You've got to have a trial on that issue."

Holste said legislation of this nature is gaining popularity, but only very few states have passed it into law. Kentucky is one of them.

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With just over a week left in the 2019 session, the bill is awaiting debate in the Senate. If approved there, it still would have to go back to the House for approval of Senate changes.

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