Florida recently failed to pass an alimony/child custody law that would have gone a long way towards modernizing the state’s outdated family law statutes.
Not only would the law have put an end to permanent alimony, an ongoing problem that leaves many men making payments they can’t afford well into their retirement years, but it would have also given kids greater access to each parent in the event of divorce, which has been proven time and time again to be in their best interest.
This was unfortunately just the latest example of why it is so difficult to reform family law statutes.
While it is always frustrating to see common sense laws fail, it is also important to keep in mind that the pendulum is starting to swing in the right direction. Although men still face many pervasive gender stereotypes in the family court system, the playing field is gradually starting to level.
Mr. Trout and Ms. Zurek appeared on the program to discuss a pair of shared parenting bills currently making their way through the Missouri legislature.
While much of the interview’s focus was on how the bills would substantially improve Missouri’s current child custody laws, Mr. Trout and Ms. Zurek also noted how they’ve seen the system improve in its treatment of men throughout their careers.
“Honestly, when we look back, in the ‘90s there was much more of a challenge in trying to transition – the judges and the justice system, the bench and the bar to understand that men play an important role in their children’s lives,” Mr. Trout said.
Mr. Trout noted that in the last 20 years social science researchers have conducted numerous studies showing just how beneficial shared parenting is for families. That’s played a key role in helping fathers remain involved in their children’s lives following divorce.
“We are so much better around the country now,” Trout said. “We’re still seeing a typical transition, and you still see spot issues around the country when it deals with men and fighting for an active role in their kids’ lives and getting equal time, but we’ve made substantial strides.”
Ms. Zurek added that in her 13 years of practice, she’s seen courts make a movement toward more joint custody arrangements, and lawmakers are beginning to catch up to that trend.
“You very rarely see sole custody given to mom,” Ms. Zurek said. “Now the Missouri legislature is trying to catch up. There’s a House bill and a Senate bill that are companion bills right now that are out there that are trying to equalize parenting time between parents to get to a week-on/week-off custody schedule, which is great for dads in Missouri.”
Of course, any optimism still must be tempered, at least to a degree. Both Missouri bills that Mr. Trout and Ms. Zurek so strongly endorsed have momentarily stalled and it is still far from certain that they will pass.
“They’re still going to debate it, obviously,” Mr. Trout said. “Influences from the outside are slowing the process down. Anything that deals with custody and family … seems to crawl in the legislature because it’s not politically correct. It’s a sensitive issue.”
But supporters should rest assured that progress is being made, even if it’s not as quickly as they’d like. Even if there are still some more hiccups to overcome, it is clear which side has momentum.
“The future is very bright,” Ms. Zurek said. “I will tell you that when I started practicing 13 years ago the standard schedule every dad would get was every other weekend, one night a week. That’s expanded during my time practicing.
Legal custody is almost the standard now where you’re going to share those rights with Mom. So I’m pleased that the legislation is finally catching up to what’s been going on in the courts de facto over the last 13 years.”