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Senate measure would impact parental time-sharing of children.

The first legislative debate in 2016 for expected alimony reform turned out to be only about parental time-sharing for children.

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, had filed a bill addressing both alimony and child custody issues, but when SB 250 came before the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 26, he amended it to address only child custody issues.

He noted Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, had filed a similar bill, which Chair Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said would be considered at a later meeting. That did not prevent several women, some of whom had traveled several hours, from addressing the committee about the alimony provisions.

"It retains that all [child] time-sharing decisions made by the court will be done in the best interest of the child," Lee said of the bill. But it also creates the initial presumption that both parents are equally good parents and keeps the 20 current provisions judges use in deciding custody issues and adds two new ones, he said.

If judges do not award an equal sharing of child custody, they would have to issue written findings based on those 22 conditions, Lee said.

Orlando attorney Mark Rabinowitz, who is board certified in marital and family law, said the presumption for equal custody was harmful.

"I believe it should be left up to the court to decide what is in the best interest of the children," he said.

Jessica Gordon said there are no clinical studies or research that supports the 50-50 time-share presumptions.

"Mothers who are nursing should not be separated from their infants when they are nursing; that is not in the best interest of the child," she said.

But Lee said it's proper for the Legislature to set a policy, adding, "To suggest that public policy is not the purview of this Legislature and it is the purview of the courts is a false view of the checks and balances of our society."

He also said the current standards allow judges to make custody adjustments for a nursing child.

"Judges will have full discretion," Lee said. "All they have to do is put in their written order the reasons they are deviating from the 50-50 [sharing]."

The committee approved the bill 7-3. It next goes to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice and the Appropriations Committee.

Diaz de la Portilla said he anticipated taking up an alimony bill and promised adequate time for public testimony. Lee's bill came up toward the end of a busy meeting and speakers were limited to 30 seconds.

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Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Feb 15, 2016
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