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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate passes divorce law change advocating that kids split time evenly with parents



Judges could be required to presume that it is best for children to split time equally with both parents under a change to the state’s divorce laws passed Tuesday by the Florida Senate.

Under current law, judges are supposed to consider 20 criteria and “the best interests of the child” when they write an order. But Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who sponsored the legislation (SB 250) says the child’s wellbeing is an end goal and that to accomplish that, it’s in the best interests of kids to split time evenly with both parents whenever possible.

The majority of senators agreed, passing Lee’s bill on a 23-15 vote.

“As we look at other child welfare polices that we enact, we always start with the assumption that if it’s in best interest of the child, we want both parents involved and that we want both parents to take responsibility,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Opponents raised concerns that creating a 50/50 starting point for court orders could prejudice judges and that it meddles too much with judicial discretion.

“Each case is different,” Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa said. “Each comes with its own unique dynamics, and conceivable, someone could come in not being equal to the other.”

Lee, however, disagrees. The legislation allows judges to deviate from the 50/50 timesharing based on the 20 criteria judges use under current law and two additional issues.

What’s more, he said it’s a civil rights issue.

“We have legislation moving year in and year out, some this year, that is designed to create equal rights, but somehow when it comes to the courts it’s not important?” Lee said.

An identical bill in the House was not heard by any committees, but an omnibus reform of divorce laws that includes a similar provision is ready for a House vote. That legislation must clear two more committees in the Senate.


[Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2016 12:20pm]


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