In one of the most anticipated floor votes in Iowa’s history, the Iowa Senate voted 30-18 to pass Senate File 571 on Tuesday. The bill creates a rebuttable presumption that joint physical care is best for the child’s health and well-being at the start of every custody case. Exceptions will be put in place for those parents who are guilty of abuse or neglect by way of clear and convincing evidence.
Julian Garrett, the floor manager, did a masterful job in the Senate subcommittee meeting by challenging the opposition to support their position. He did an excellent job alleviating the ever-dwindling number of concerns and objections. Our legislators are increasingly taking into account what more than one hundred ten credible, peer-reviewed studies have long supported: Shared Parenting overwhelmingly benefits the majority of children. SF571 received bipartisan support.
Iowa is seeking to become the second state in the country to have a rebuttable presumption of joint physical care but with a clear and convincing evidentiary standard. Doing so will make it increasingly difficult for any judge’s personal bias to taint the process by requiring a written finding of facts to support any deviation from shared physical care.
The current presumption amongst most judges is that one parent will win while the other parent loses in a “winner take all” kind of custody battle. This outdated archetype ensures that the children lose every single time.
SF571 changes the language to create a presumption that both parents have a right to equal time with their children until and unless the court can show that such an arrangement would be detrimental to the child’s health and well-being. Yes, this bill will help many mothers and many fathers maintain their parental rights. Still, more importantly, this bill will ensure that children do not lose a parent who had previously been a significant presence in their lives. “All this bill does is put parents on equal footing as they enter the court. I’m proud to put forth this idea and see it move forward,” says Senator Brad Zaun.
Opponents of the bill claim that this will mandate equal time between parents in all cases, including those cases involving abuse. However, all protections that currently exist in the law pertaining to victims of abuse will remain intact precisely as they are now.
Nothing is mandated.
Parents are still free to negotiate any arrangement they see fit, and judges are still allowed to deviate from 50/50 if the specifics of the case necessitate such. Most parents are in court simply because they cannot agree on an arrangement, and this will place those parents on equal footing heading into mediation or trial.
The bill heads to the Iowa House, where Representative Steve Holt is expected to assign a subcommittee to keep the ball rolling promptly. Support is anticipated to be very strong on the House side, as shown by the vote on HF706 (now HF583), which changed the term “visitor” to “parenting time” within Iowa’s child custody law. Support was unanimous, with both Democrats and Republicans increasingly acknowledging that children need both parents.
To keep up with the latest on SF571 and Family Law Reform in Iowa and around the country and to learn how to get involved, please like Families United Action Network on Facebook and visit our website at Familiesunite.org.