50/50 child custody bill sparks heated debate in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Automatic 50/50 child custody could become a reality for the entire state, now becoming a hot button topic as lawmakers advocate to send House Bill 4691, the Michigan Shared Parenting Act, to the house floor in the fall.

Friday, a group of supporters of the bill gathered outside of the courthouse downtown Grand Rapids, encouraging others to come to a town hall hearing later this month. The group passed out flyers for an event called Putting Kids First.  The town hall event with State Representative Jim Runestad (R-44th District) is Monday, August 21st, at 6:00 p.m. at 401 Hall Street SW in Grand Rapids.

The group is supporting Michigan House Bill 4691 which they say would fix the "heartbreaking and ineffective family court system across Michigan" that "negatively and unapologetically pits parent against parent and hurts children of ALL ages."

Advocates say the bill would allow for more equal parenting time for divorced couples with children. They believe people who have concerns with child custody, family court, parental alienation and parenting time should be interested in this bill.  The group has more information at MichiganSharedCustody.com. 

Michigan law currently follows the Child Custody Act of 1970, operating case-by-case, awarding parents different levels of custody depending on a number of variables. The act currently puts the power in the hands of the court to decide.

Ryan Leestma, a father fighting for custody of his child believes the current law pits parents against each other.

"There's no judicial standard," said Leestma. "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."

If the bill is passed, fathers like Ryan Leestma would be able to spend time with his children. But not everyone is on board with the possible changes. Some parents have raised concerns after suffering domestic violence in their marriage, worried new laws would give 50% percent of custody to people who should be anywhere near children.

"By the end of my marriage he was trying to drown my daughter in the kitchen sink, in the dirty dish water," said Paula Fitzsimons over the phone, a single mother who survived domestic violence. "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."

Fox 17 reached out to the sponsor of the bill, Representative Jim Runestad, who says divorcées who've suffered domestic violence have nothing to fear.

"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," said Representative Runestad. "All the peer reviewed studies, 54 studies by 110 national experts across the globe, say joint custody is best for children in a divorce."

Advocates of the bill claim there's not a judicial standard, saying both parents deserve equal rights to their children. However, people opposed say the courts should be fighting in the best interest of the child and not for the rights of parents. Rep. Runestad says the bill could be up for a vote on the house floor as early as the fall. Click the link for all 27 pages of House Bill 4691. 


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  • Sam

    The Kent County FOC actively seeks to restrict fathers from their children. It makes them seem more important and it forces fathers to pay more in support (fewer visits equal higher payments), the Kent County FOC really likes that because then they get to talk about all the money that they are “giving” to mothers and children in need. The reality is that they are only forcing children father away from “the other parent” and causing more hate towards an already bad situation. It really is time for the FOC to get their rear kicked and stop being part of the problem as they really are NOT helping children and families.

  • les

    Bad law. They just encourage more litigation instead of getting it right the first time, and false allegations. If there are true allegations, the victim is accused of parental alienation. Get it right the first time for care and provision of the child. Sheesh

  • AJ Rush

    My ex refused to address her mental health problems. We’re both physicians. She tried to kill herself with an insulin overdose and leave her corpse where our girls would find her. I found and resuscitated her; she’d taken so much insulin that even with a glucose IV her blood sugar was still dropping. She makes a lot more money than I do (she’s anesthesia, I’m a pediatrician). In the divorce I spent all my savings, my retirement account, and went $70k in debt, but she simply outspent me. So now she has the girls 2/3 of the time. Obviously still hasn’t addressed her mental health. How is that good for the girls?

  • Kevin Rahe

    If we really think it’s important for children to be raised by both of their parents, we should eliminate no-fault divorce and quit making it more financially attractive for low-income couples to divorce and live together (though apart in the eyes of the law) than to stay married.

  • Stating the Obvious

    The article states that “the (Child Custody Act of 1970) currently puts the power in the hands of the court to decide.”

    I can’t attest to other states and/or counties but any father who has ever dealt with the Kent County FOC knows that this statement is inherently FALSE.

    It should read: “the (Child Custody Act of 1970) currently puts the power in the hands of the [MOTHER] to decide.”

    • Michael

      Just because the Kent County court is biased doesn’t make the statement false.

      The power is in the hand of the court. The court is just biased towards the mother.

  • Ilene Yanke

    I am for 50-50, as right now, my grandson’s girlfriend’s grandmother has custody of his 6 month old girl. She will not let any of us see the baby. I’m 80 yrs. old and have seen her only once! We are good people and could offer her much.

  • Ed

    If both parents are fit to have custody, the 50/50 law is great. I was a respected 3 grade teacher and coach with no domestic or other legal issues. It broke my heart that the children I taught and coached loved me, but I never even had an overnight or weekend with my son. The judged laughed at me when I asked for a 50/50 custody plan with 2 weeks on and two weeks off. I hope that other fathers don’t have to deal with the things I did.

  • Deb

    FOC is a joke, I’d like to see every one of them there lose their job. My ex-husband and I worked it out so we didn’t have to go through them for anything. I’ve seen too many dads get screwed by FOC and their “don’t give a crap” attitude. Seen too many women fight for full custody because it was just the money they were after (ahem …some from 2 or 3 guys that were dads to their various offspring … they had quite the gig going – then said women still would hold back dads from seeing kids and FOC was no help). Make it 50/50 right off the bat and kids will be much better off. Any mom that doesn’t let the kids go with dad during their designated time should get jailed with dad getting full csstody (yes, it’s mostly the moms that play these petty games to mess with the dads).

  • Whatsmore

    You just can’t make it a blank “50-50” situation. You don’t know how treacherous and emotionally toxic it can be in one of the parents homes. Some homes have revolving doors of boyfriends and girlfriends living in. Some parents don’t supervise the kids well at all, and gladly will leave them with a new boyfriend or girlfriend to babysit, etc. The good and responsible parent can rightfully be afraid of the situation their kid might be going into in a 50-50.