Wisconsin Assembly Bill 54 is currently creating enormous interest (and controversy) in the family law community. You can find the text of the Bill at: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2009/related/proposals/ab54. The Bill changes the standard for awarding physical placement of a child (“physical placement” defined as the time a child spends with a parent). Under current law, when determining placement of a child, the court must provide for regular, meaningful placement that maximizes the time spent with each parent. The court reviews a lengthy list of factors to determine the allocation of placement that is in the child’s best interest. There is no presumption that equal placement is in the child’s interest. Assembly Bill 54 changes this rule, creating a presumption that a placement schedule is in a child’s best interest if it “equalizes to the highest degree” the amount of time with each parent. This Bill would work a rather radical change in Wisconsin law.
This change is strongly supported by those who feel that fathers routinely are denied reasonable placement in family disputes. They often cite research indicating that children do better with both parents involved, even after divorce, and reason that more placement for fathers would be beneficial to children. Additionally, the Bill’s supporters believe that a presumption of equal placement would drastically decrease the amount of placement disputes in court, easing the court’s burden and theoretically decreasing conflict over the children.
The Bill’s opponents argue that focusing on equal placement places the emphasis on the parent’s “rights” to placement, as opposed to what is best for the child. There are many cases in which one of the parents does not wish, or is not able to exercise, equal placement. There are also unfortunately instances when equal placement would be detrimental to the child. In such cases, the Bill places the burden on the objecting parent to prove that equal placement is detrimental. In cases of domestic violence, alcohol/substance abuse, or plain bad/inattentive parenting, opponents believe, that burden should not be on the objecting parent. The Bill also seems to remove the judge’s discretion to apply the relevant factors without the shadow of the equal presumption.
There are good arguments to be made on both sides. I would be very interested in readers’ thoughts on this Bill, and encourage you to submit your comments to this blog, to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to your local representative.