Bill would increase noncustodial parents’ time with children

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SALT LAKE CITY — A grandmother who helped her son wage a custody battle for his children endorsed proposed legislation that would give courts another option in determining parent time in divorce cases.

The proposal, considered Wednesday by the Utah Legislature’s Judiciary Interim Committee, is intended to reduce conflict and curb litigation in divorce cases. The bill, still in draft form, would slightly increase the minimum time afforded to noncustodial parents.

Julie Anderson, the mother of two adult children who have been divorced, said any change to state statutes that can curb the acrimony between divorcing parties would be a welcome change.

“I think we need to get away from custody being about wallets and more about our children,” she said.

In 2012, Anderson lobbied for clarifications in state custody laws with respect to gender after her 3-year-old granddaughter was killed when her mother, who had custody of the child despite a history of drug abuse, blacked out while driving and slammed into a brick wall at 48 mph. Anderson’s son was the noncustodial parent of the girl.

The mother was later found to have marijuana and OxyContin in her system and eventually pleaded guilty to a second-degree felony.

One proposed change would provide divorcing parties and judges an option to allow custody transfers to occur at school. Instead of picking up the child from one another’s residence, the child would be picked up at school.

“This is an absolutely wonderful plan,” Anderson said, remarking that parents would no longer “be spitting at each other” during these transitions.

“When one shoots a barb at the other, the children feel that pain,” she said.

Former Rep. Lorie Fowlke, a family law attorney, said the proposed legislation was largely drafted by the family law section of the Utah State Bar “to address some needs we felt were important.”

One proposed change would allow noncustodial parents to pick up their child after school on Fridays and drop their children off on Monday mornings.

Robert Jordan, a divorced father, told the committee that the proposed change would encourage more parental involvement in school among noncustodial parents.

The bill would require noncustodial parents seeking increased parent time to demonstrate they are actively involved in their child’s life and the parties can communicate effectively about the child, among other factors.

Judges would determine whether noncustodial parents have the ability to facilitate increased parent time, such as the ability to assist with after-school care, taking into consideration the distance between the former spouses’ residences and the child’s school and the “history and ability of parents to implement a flexible schedule for the child,” the draft states.

“Anytime you make something easier and clearer, then it decreases the conflict and decreases litigation, which is what we’re trying to do,” Fowlke said.

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