Sunday, September 14, 2008

BCCA Testimony Indiana Legislative Child Custody Committee - 11 Sept 2008

Stuart Showalter, Legislative Liaison for Indiana Shared Parenting spoke to the Indiana Legislative Committee on Child Custody and Support at their 11 September 2008 meeting. Mr Showalter was questioned by members of the Committee following his presentation. His prepared text follows:

Madam Chairwoman and members of the Committee. I thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today. I come to you today with what has been historically considered a Father's Rights issue because of the disproportionate custody arrangements based upon gender. However, I consider this more of a Parent's Rights or, more accurately, a Child's Rights issue.

Our Indiana Code is permeated with references to "the best interest of the child" but it provides no guidance as to what that is. I have worked with parents on cases throughout the state, before many different judges yet find no continuity among them as to what is considered the best interest of the child. I propose that the problem is that the language "best interest of the child" is a fallacy in that it treats the child as an autonomous unit which a child clearly is not. This has already been established through statute that mandates a parents responsibility to provide support to their children until the age of majority.

So can I define what is best for the children? Individually, no, that still needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis but collectively I propose that it is what is best for the family. That is both fit and loving parents having meaningful and regular contact with their children. Which, coincidentally, has been determined by our Supreme Court to be the right of the children. Currently there is nothing in our family law code that ensures what is called the best interest of the children. Indiana has provided nothing more to children than hollow words to feel good by. I assure you that it does not feel good for the children.

Just last week I was here in Indy with a concerned father at a CHiNS case where the FCM reported that the only food in the mother's house was what had been spilled on the floor, was infected with bugs and was being eaten by the toddler. That the adolescent girls report that the mother's boyfriend regular observes them in the bathroom, that the oldest child had run away and that all children feared living in that house. Yet this is what a judge had determined was in those "children's best interest".

I wish this was something that shocked me, was unusual or was an outrageous failure by the system. But none of that is so. This is common and statistics continue to show that children are neglected and abused more often when living in a maternal sole custody situation, then paternal sole custody, a Shared Custody arrangement and finally with married parents, in that order.

Our Indiana Supreme Court has recognized and promotes that children need Shared Parenting and that it is in their best interest. However, while that is being put into law and practice in other states Indiana has failed to do so and our children are being neglected because of it. Had the judge who ordered those children into the neglectful situation I saw last week instead been instructed, through statute, to submit findings as to why Shared Parenting would not have been best for these children then they likely would not be in that situation.

While other states have passed or debated Shared Parenting bills Indiana still has not although the need for this has clearly been recognized. Generally these statutes require family law judges to presume that both biological parents interacted with, provided for and supported their children. Instead of the parents having to show that they have done this, so custody can be awarded to them, the State would have to find that a parent had not done this before depriving the children of access to that parent.

I have provided to you along with my written testimony a proposal to amend Indiana's child custody laws in favor of Shared Parenting, statistics on the effects of single parenting and what some prominent people have to say about Shared Parenting. I anticipate seeing you in the future and hope it will be while we are working towards giving children what is truly in their best interest, what is best for the family.
-Stuart Showalter

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