The Rapidian

State Rep. Runestad pushes changes to Child Custody Act which prioritize rights of parents over children

Town hall event with bill sponsor State Representative Jim Runestad (R-44th District) to be held Monday, August 21st, at 6:00 p.m. at 401 Hall Street SW in Grand Rapids.

A bill is being proposed for a Michigan house floor vote this fall which would make radical changes to the Michigan Child Custody Act. House Bill 4691, which would rename the legislature to the Michigan Shared Custody Act, would automatically divide childrens' physical custody (aka "parenting time") with each parent 50 / 50, unless a burden of proof is met which demonstrates the case should be evaluated individually.

In legal cases, a "burden of proof" refers to a quantity of evidence which must be provided in order to prove something in the affirmative or negative. In criminal matters, for example, the U.S. Justice system, places the burden of proof on guilt; one is assumed innocent until proven guilty.

The current Michigan Child Custody Act determines parenting time on a case-by-case basis, according to 12 "Best Interest Factors" which center the interests of the child, based on research. Factors include the child's emotional attachments, maintaining stability of the child's environment, reasonable preference, parental capacity, and willingness to facilitate a relationship with the other parent. Cases are evaluated according to these factors by Friend of the Court caseworkers and ruled on by family circuit judges.

In other words: currently, child custody is decided on a case-by-case basis, based on each child's best interest. 

The proposed bill would evaluate child custody along 11 factors which are similar in purpose, but altered to center more around the goal of evenly dividing parenting time between parents. However, it would ONLY apply this evaluation if a burden of proof is met to demonstrate the child should NOT have their time evenly divided between parents.

In other words: under the proposed bill, parents would have to prove their child should NOT spend 50 percent of their time with their other parent in order for the courts to consider any other arrangement.

House Bill 4691 is being billed as a pro-father's rights, pro-equity, pro-family legislature which would fix the "abuse of the court system," according to their website. 

According to Fox17 News, proponents of the bill say it will even out biases in the court system. Father Ryan Leestma stated "There's no judicial standard...There's no burden of proof to show why a parent can't be a good parent. Basically, the cards are stacked against one parent over the other."

Opponents of the bill are concerned that the bill will put children under much greater risk of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. 

Fox17 quotes single mother and domestic violence survivor Paula Fitzsimons: "By the end of my marriage he was trying to drown my daughter in the kitchen sink, in the dirty dish water...When you get into court, now what? Automatically my kids would have to go with him 50% of the time if you have this automatic parent custody." 

The bill's main sponsor, State Representative Jim Runestad (R-44th District), says the bill has adequate protections to protect children from abuse, stating that "If there's any evidence of domestic violence, the presumption portion (of bill 4691) is taken off the table and it's back to the old style of law."

The bill itself states that "substantially equal parenting time" (in which the child spends no more than 200 days per year with one parent) will be granted, unless "the parents consent to another agreement or 1 parent demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence 1 of" five possible factors, which include abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and child preference (for older children). 

Providing adequate evidence to provide a burden of proof when it comes to matters of domestic abuse and violence, however, can often be very difficult.

Representative Runestad's track record includes limiting non-citizens from receiving college scholarships, and he lists his main issues as Jobs (ensuring Michigan contractors are only hiring "legal" workers), Liberty (2nd Amendment rights, anti-abortion, Constitutionality), and limiting Immigration.

The bill will go to the house floor for a vote this fall.

A Town hall event with Rep. Runestad will be held Monday, August 21st, at 6:00 p.m. at 401 Hall St. SW in Grand Rapids.

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