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Michigan PAC Wants Mandatory 50/50 Child Custody on Ballot

February 26, 2010

LANSING, Mich. - A ballot measure being considered today by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers could change the way courts decide child custody disputes. Sponsored by the political action group, Dads and Moms, the measure would mandate that courts award joint physical custody unless there is evidence that one parent is unfit, unwilling, or unable to care for the child. Michigan currently has a law that encourages judges to award joint legal custody to parents, allowing both parents the right to make important decisions regarding their children.

But, Renee Beeker, founder of the National Family Court Watch Project and president of the NOW-Michigan chapter, argues joint physical custody is not always the best answer. Child care responsibilities are rarely equally divided in households, and mandating it in custody rulings is not in the best interest of all children, she says.

"In real life, we don't operate fifty-fifty. In divorce, it's certainly not going to work, especially if people aren't agreeing or there are abuse issues. When you get fifty-fifty, you no longer have any child support burden. We think that, if you took the child support issue out completely, you wouldn't have people trying to get fifty-fifty custody."

Beeker argues such fifty-fifty custody arrangements are not customary, in part because research shows children generally do not benefit from it. She argues a joint custody mandate is unnecessary because more than 85 percent of all custodial arrangements are worked out before parents get to court. In the remaining cases, it's particularly important for the judge to have flexibility in deciding what's best for the children, she adds.

"A good two-thirds of those remaining fifteen percent involve domestic violence in some way, shape or form. So, then you are mandating victims to share custody and have to carry the burden of going to court for safety."

Supporters of the measure say it guarantees that the child maintains a relationship with both parents. Today's hearing before the Board of State Canvassers is the first formal step in the ballot initiative process.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI