A “Townhall Hearing” next month in Howell will seek public input for proposed legislation in which Michigan parents could see more joint custody and substantially equal parenting time.

The event will be held Thursday, November 2nd from 6-8pm at the Howell Opera House. It’s being sponsored by the National Parents Organization which supports legislation by White Lake Republican State Representative Jim Runestad, who will be the guest speaker at the gathering. He says that with some exceptions, such as a history of domestic violence, the bill would require the court to begin with the presumption that shared parenting is in the best interest of the child. His bill would also prohibit a parent from moving more than 80 miles away from the other parent and giving substantial weight to the child’s custody preference if they’re 16 or older.

Several groups are strongly opposed to the legislation, including the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence and the Michigan Judge’s Association Family Law Committee. They contend that the bill removes the focus in child custody disputes from what's best for the child to a parent's right to equal time with their child. But Runestad says a look at the data makes it clear that the current system is broken, citing 2013 stats that show joint custody was only awarded in 40% of divorce cases in Michigan, with wild disparities depending on individual counties. He also refutes claims that it removes judicial discretion in custody cases, saying that a judge could still override the presumptive nature of the bill if they feel there is a compelling issue of safety or child welfare. But he says to do so they would have to state on the record what those issues are, which they currently do not have to do.

The bill, HB 4691, passed the House Judiciary Committee along party lines with Democrats opposed. Runestad chairs the committee and says he’s hoping to use public gatherings like the one in Howell to gather support for the bill getting a full vote and eventually becoming law. You’ll find details about the Howell Opera House gathering through the link below. (JK)