15 Feb Press Release: 02/15/2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Birmingham, Alabama – February 15, 2017 – Dueling child custody bills filed in the Alabama State Senate on Valentine’s Day. Here is what you need to know.
Two child custody bills affecting children of divorced or separated parents was ironically filed on the day of romance. The first bill, SB 186 (aka the Children’s Equal Access Act) was filed by Senator Larry Stutts. A second bill, SB 191 was then filed by Senator Vivian Davis Figures and co-sponsored by Senator Cam Ward.
On the surface, the two bills appear to be very similar, but the subtle differences set the two bills miles apart. Debbie Zeiger, the Vice President of the Alabama Family Rights Association, says ALFRA supports SB 186 filed by Senator Stutts (with 9 bipartisan co-sponsors) and opposes SB 191 filed by Senator Figures. Debbie Zeiger says that, “SB 191 misses the point altogether and maintains the status quo.“
Zeiger explains that that the purpose of SB 186 (Children’s Equal Access Act) is to provide children equal or approximately equal time with both parents as the starting point in all custody cases. SB 186 states on page 5 line 18-20, “The court shall in every case presume joint custody [equal or approximately equal parenting time] to be in the best interest of the child.” SB 191 states on page 5 line 4-6, “(a) The court shall in every case consider joint custody but may award any form of custody which is determined to be in the best interest of the child.” SB 191 also specifies on page 3 line 25-27, “Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean physical custody of equal durations of time.”
“We need a bill that provides guidelines to judges so that children and parents across the State are treated the same. SB 186 (Children’s Equal Access Act) accomplishes this and ensures that children have a chance at spending equal or approximately equal time with both parents to maintain the same relationship they had with their parents when they were together”, says Zeiger. A recent survey administered to judges by the Alabama Administrative Office of the Courts revealed that many judges refuse to award equal custody and parenting time in any case. This means that the outcome of a custody case has more to do with what judge presides over the case or the county the case is filed than the actual circumstances affecting the child.
SB 186 (Children’s Equal Access Act) is consistent with the consensus of child psychologists and family therapists whose research has determined that equal or approximately equal time with both parents is in the best interest of the children. Both bills will go through the Senate Judiciary Committee for which Senator Cam Ward is the chairman. Debbie Zeigler hopes that Senator Figures and Senator Ward will compromise and put wording in their bill that ensures that children have the opportunity to have equal or approximately equal time with both of their parents.
Contact: Kenneth Paschal, State President