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

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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.

  • Zach

    The current law is 100 percent gender discriminatory. So many great dads have to spend thousands to give their child the right to spend equal time with them. ( current law is for rights of child, not right of dads, fine… why is the child NOT autaomatically given equal access to dad? Because they are forced to fight for their child to have that right. even when rarely 50 50 physical, legal custody with equal parenting time is the outcome, the higher earner will pay the lower in order to level out the standard of living. So if you are an unemployed parent ( lets say mom) living with zero housing expenses being supported by someone else who has a much higher level of income, you still get paid child support by the one who has a job. and your child has not lost the right for equal access to you. Your rights, if that’s what the courts are considering are NOT denied. ( this should NOT even be the consideration) The other parent who is paying support is living independently, is responsible for all their own bills and paying for duplicate needs of the child in 2 households. She may have more children for different dads and earning support., and all of her household bills are paid. This flawed system encourages this sick cycle to continue and escalate. why would she want to go get a job? moving on to the next guy that can give her a baby gives her a new adventure, now housing, and if she decides she doesn’t want to stay, well, she just moves on the next and is automatically ensured support… Not all moms are like this… but tell me that this isn’t a real problem. This makes relationships disposable, In cases of abuse there has to be proof, financial physical and mental instability is NOT something that is equally damaging to children from either parent… MOM INCLUDED. If there are medical diagnoses of continuing problems this is something that should be considered. ONLY in regard to the child having the right to live in a stable home with a stable parent. id say a history of chronic unemployment and constant job change,,,it should be a red flag to investigate why… show there is something wrong… if that is because of disability, then disability benefits need to be saught… that is the responsible thing for a parent to do. to ensure their child is taken care of while they are under their care. look into frequent firings… Being late,,, no shows , or fired because they were vebally abusive to their co workers , lazy and unproductive. would all be detrimental things for a child when they look up to this parent as their model… NONE of these things are taken into factor…you are required to give account of your job history when you work, why in the world would that NOT be at least factor in your ability to raise a child if you are an otherwise healthy adult? my ex physically assaulted my sister and mother … black and blue all over her face and neck. she punched holes in my walls, smashed my vehicle panels with a baseball bat. the poice were called..( charges were dropped after she started counseling, that she quit after only a month) . but none of these things matter because she did not lift a finger to our child.( she did not lift a finger indeed, I did it all when I was home, and if I worked shed go and stay with my parents and they care for the baby while she ran around. .. shed literally scream in his face when he was an infant when he had a belly ache… after she left with her new boyfriend and left our son behind I found 6 months of crappy diapers under the bed. Then she was just gone, god knows where for months. Wed get a call occasionally to let us know she was alive but refused to tell me where she was , she said simply,,, its not a good place. I gotta get out of here, she learned at one point she was pregnant by her new boyfriend and wanted to come back, she was sorry… At that point I did not see that as something that would be good for either me or our child… I said no. right after I heard she had tested positive for drugs a prenatal visit I finally got emergency temporary custody…she got all kinds of help again from the state… she needed it. But she had only been stable for 4 months out of 18 months when. the court then gave our child the “right” to spend equal time with her. after 4 shared cycles, she got equal custody less than 2 weeks after being fired from another job for being verbally abusive to co workers. BTW she worked as a health care AID!! :( . Ill gladly pay support. for my child to ensure she will get him what he needs… IF she does that. she is on ever state program there is and already gets everything for free. I learned she was still getting WIC benefits for him while she was out there God knows where doing God knows what for months. I cancelled them .after I got a letter for a wic appointment for renewal. I didn’t even know he was still getting these benefits… I don’t want to be on state aid if I don’t absolutely have to. .. she was using his benefits for herself. The office knows… she was also claiming our child was living with her 100 percent when he had not even spent one night with her to attain low income housing… she did this for several months… her attorney in court was paid by the state, both for custody and to keep her from being evicted. she ended up having her benefits reduced to pay it back? how does that work if they pay for everything anyway? At any rate after a year in court my child won the right to have me as his legal physical dad half the time… if I had not fought she was coming to take him and would automatically had 100 percent and would have denied my child the right to be with me, He had no rights… SHE was the only one and still seems to be the one protected. Who is truly advocating for children??

    • Zach

      I meant to say instability and abuse is not a one sided gender issue… its not always men who have the problem…and there is more than one kind of abuse. and when kids are denied the RIGHT to have access to the other parent for SOME stability until it is hashed out by a court that is currently bound to be bias toward mom, there is a real failure for kids… current law denies the child the right to have equally shared time with both parents sharing legal and physical custody. The money and time spent by dads in court just to give their child the benefits of equal rights for both parents is absolutely gender discrimination. the mom bias is a standard that has been overly abused and is neglectful to the child by not allowing them to have 2 equal legal parents to care for them in terms of every benefit each can give, not only financially, but in learning, tradition, extended family, variable view points on problem solving. All resources necessary to properly integrate and grow a productive member of society.

  • John

    This is a good start, but if you have a system that gives incentives to the FOC according to the number of cases open, and amount of money owed, fathers will always end up with the short end.

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