Monday, October 24, 2005

Divorce: Equal custody wanted - NH

Portsmouth Herald


PORTSMOUTH - A bill that encourages equal custody rights for parents in divorce cases stalled in the Legislature earlier this year.
Now both fathers and mothers have launched a statewide e-mail and letter-writing campaign to get it passed in the form originally intended.

House Bill 529 contained a provision that encouraged judges to push for shared custody if possible. That provision was stripped from the almost identical HB 640, which was signed into law.

The only real difference between the two bills, said state Rep. David Bickford, R-Durham, is that HB 640 omitted wording that would have courts begin custody cases with the presumption that both parents share custody equally.

"There is already a presumption that both parents know what is in the best interest of the child, but we never came out to say it’s 50/50," said Bickford. "HB 529 starts both parents off equally, then adjusts from there.

Bickford said custody cases often pit one parent against the other. The court has set the blueprint, he said.

Bickford said passing HB 529, a bill he sponsored, does not mean that custody will be shared automatically. The judge has the leeway to make changes based on evidence of child abuse and other factors.

If the court finds that shared custody is not in the child’s best interest, the judge can rule otherwise.

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