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Mark Sessums: Put children first and HB 843 custody bill away

It’s especially important lawmakers get family law right.

One of the most inspiring visuals in the Florida Capitol is during children’s week. It’s a beautiful display of thousands of hand-crafted waving hands hanging from the ceiling. It’s an important reminder that the laws that are debated and passed during the Legislative Session should always put our children first.

Which is why it’s especially important lawmakers get family law right.

In the case of a divorce, few laws impact the future of a child’s life more. That’s why attorneys and parents across the state of Florida are closely monitoring CS/HB 843 by Rep. Alexander Andrade and co-sponsored by Rep. Anthony Sabatini and Rep. Spencer Roach. These lawmakers are likely well-intentioned, but their bill is deeply flawed — with potentially very harmful consequences.

Right now, courts are required to always put the best interest of the child first.

According to the legislative staff analysis, CS/HB 843 would put parents first — presuming that the custody of the child is 50/50% — and requiring a parent to show that equal time-sharing is not in the best interest of the child.

This is an entirely flawed approach.

And it would add mountains of new litigation to our courts.

A 2016 Pew article cited a legal expert who said that Laws that encourage shared parenting may sound “seductive” to state lawmakers, but they often force families into bad situations.

There are cases where equal parenting time is appropriate, but it’s hard to find fault with examining each case and each child individually when deciding what works best for their family and them.

More divorcing parents are already choosing shared custody. While mothers are custodial parents 82.5% of the time, it may just be because fathers aren’t asking for that job. A study in Massachusetts found that fathers who actively sought primary or joint custody obtained it more than 70 percent of the time.

Additionally, this bill will roll back important protections against abusive or controlling former spouses. A victim shouldn’t have to prove that it’s not in a child’s best interest to live half the time with an abusive ex-partner.

In short, CS/HB 843 is unnecessary.

The courts are using a process that works — putting the child first — and considering the ability to care for a child, stability, and the child’s reasonable preference. Courts need discretion to apply guidelines, not presumptions that will force their hand a create more acrimony and litigation, not less.

Putting our children first means putting CS/HB 843 aside.

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Mark Sessums, President-Elect of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Florida Chapter, formed the firm now known as Sessums Law Group, P.A., in April 2008.  The firm has three lawyers and represents litigants in all types of civil matters in all courts throughout the State of Florida and in other jurisdictions.

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