Weeks before Father’s Day, veto proves heartbreaking

As the kids and I plotted secretly for weeks on homemade presents (a scrapbook of Dad’s baby photos, cards and poems) and a yummy breakfast featuring pancakes from scratch forming  the letters D A D, sad news for Minnesota fathers appeared in the papers — although you had to look pretty hard for it.

Just weeks before Father’s Day, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a bipartisan proposal that would have increased the threshold time non-custodial parents (the vast majority of whom are fathers) are awarded with their children from 25 to 35 percent.

Unfortunately, the governor caved to the powerful Family Law lobbyists who discouraged any change to the status quo that makes these private practices very lucrative. These attorneys convinced the governor that a change in that threshold percentage would harm children. But in legislative hearings, letters to various editors and in studies conducted on the well being of children, the threat of harm due to a more equal time schedule has never been explained or proven.

The proposed change would have still protected children from abusive or neglectful parents the same way they are protected now: judicial discretion. Judges can rule against any parenting time agreement they believe would put children in jeopardy.

Many lawmakers and father’s rights advocates believe the bill didn’t go far enough. Most wanted a presumption of 50-50 parenting time if both parents are found fit. They rightly claim deviations from that percent of shared time could be made on case-by-case basis depending on the needs of the child and the circumstances of the parents.

In a compromise with these lobbyists however, the bill’s authors reduced the increased threshold to 35 percent. With the bar so low (and staying at 25 percent), divorced and unmarried fathers often end up having to spend exorbitant amounts of money on lawyers to be granted every hour, every day, every weekend with their children above and beyond that threshold.

With such a disproportionate parenting time guideline, courts pick losers (25 percent) and winners  (75 percent) among two loving parents. This uneven distribution allows parenting time to be used as a pawn in the “game” of getting back at the ex for the hurt of a failed relationship. Parents and children lose from these lengthy court battles, while their lawyers win in the form of large payments. The harder and longer parents fight, more and more fees can be collected.

As a child of a bitter divorce and a stepmom of two beautiful kids, this issue hits close to home. I often regret the time I missed with my father — especially during those roller-coaster teenage years when I needed him the most. My heart breaks for my husband who has struggled with being an “every-other weekend” father, when he can and wants to be so much more.

I am fortunate that as an adult, my dad and I are closer than ever. I’m so thankful to have had a caring and responsible father in my life for most of my childhood, and grateful for the new memories we are forming to make up for those lost years.

It’s devastating that many Minnesota children do not have the time with their fathers that they want and need. And it’s more than disappointing that, as a divorced father himself, Dayton failed to do the right thing. Advocates of the bill have promised to try again next year. We citizens need to flood Dayton’s office with words of encouragement to move our state’s Family Law system forward for the benefit of children and families. We may not think this issue affects us — until it’s our son, nephew, brother or husband fighting against odds and statistics to have meaningful time with his child.

The issue needs to be front and center, not buried on page 8 and certainly not neglected completely until a veto pen strikes the paper. If we all take an active role in ensuring children have adequate access to loving dads, who knows — maybe we’ll have cause for an even bigger celebration next Father’s Day.

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