Monday, April 04, 2005

Nevada: Senate bill seeks to give divorced parents equal time with their children

Las Vegas City Life

Excerpts below:

That's why the 36-year-old Las Vegan and dozens of others are speaking out in support of Senate Bill 109 -- legislation proposed by Sen. Maurice Washington (R-Sparks), which would alter the state's child custody laws and seek to award parents joint custody and equal time with their children.

"Children need both parents," says Crawford. "What if the courts told you when you were growing up that you could only basically have one parent? What kind of person would you be today? We are not asking for power or millions of dollars. We just want what we set out to be: parents involved in our children's lives. This is not rocket science."

When Crawford's marriage ended, basically so did his relationship with his daughter. Visitation was difficult. And in 2003, a judge did the unthinkable, in Crawford's eyes, and allowed his ex-wife to move to Reno with his daughter, who had no family members living there. In Las Vegas, the girl was surrounded by family, enrolled in a magnet school and participated in horseback competitions, Crawford says.

Washington's bill would establish that joint custody is in the best interest of a child -- even when both parents don't agree to joint custody. The law would not be applied if a parent has been convicted of certain crimes, committed acts of domestic violence or it's determined through an investigation that the parent is dependent on alcohol or drugs and unfit to care for the child.

"This is a step in the right direction," says Alan DiCicco, president and founder of the Coalition for Family Court Reform. "These are fathers that want to be there. We want to put everyone on equal ground."

Opponents of SB109 could not be reached for comment prior to deadline.

Maureen Denman and her husband divorced after 21 years of marriage. The couple was awarded joint custody -- but their two children, then 13 and 15, lived with her husband.

Denman, like many others who testified, says one-sided custody -- whether in favor of the husband or the wife -- is wrong and hurts a child's emotional development. Studies show this to be true.

"Both parents need equal time," says Denman, explaining how being away from a child can wear on a parent. "It takes years to rebuild relationships with your children and it's time you can't replace."

Perhaps, says Juli Star-Alexander of the court monitoring group
Redress Incorporated, it's because family law attorneys are making a good living arguing child custody cases -- and making sure, she says, they linger on.

"Family court is a cash cow," Star-Alexander says. "It's not set up for conflict resolution. It's an unbalanced system because everyone has an agenda."

"We cannot allow officials to destroy our lives at random, and we will do whatever it takes to remove any and all opponents to equal parenting from office," says Crawford. "This is our country and our lives, and we want our children back."

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