H.B. 4691 Michigan Joint Custody Bill passes 6-3. Republicans for the bill and Democrats against. Many states are commending themselves for passing bills they call joint custody, shared, parenting, or equal parenting bills. But what is really going on and what do these really mean. Let’s take a little closer look at 4691.

It’s a problem when a reporter opens their story on a joint custody bill with the phrase “children often caught in the middle with both parents pushing for custody” as if the parents were to blame for the way the state handles child custody in family court. Nevertheless, this is how Amir Abbas, reporter with WZZM (ABC), opens his story on Michigan’s joint custody Bill HB 4691. How can one push for what one already has? Parent’s aren’t pushing for custody, they are fighting for their inalienable god given rights that are being stolen from them.

A major reason the states continue to get their joint custody and shared parenting bills wrong for the most part is that they do not understand the role that the constitution plays. Since the1970’s the constitution has been understood to say that parental rights do NOT depend upon marriage. Parental rights are individual rights of each parent and parental rights protect the children from government bureaucrats who would carelessly see children harmed to increase their own power. States have not corrected their thinking about child custody and the fact that parental rights are individual rights that do not depend on marriage.

Both parents, are equally entitled to the custody of their child no matter who likes it, that’s a fact. Constitutional rights do not cancel out when two people have claim to something, like most attorneys have parents believing right now.  The law must require the presumption to be that when parents are in disagreement parents would not “push for custody,” they each are entitled to custody and the judge has a duty to protect each parent’s rights and the child’s right to each parent equally.

Dissolution of the marriage only means that they each need their rights protected from the other infringing on them. In fact, it is a judge’s duty to ensure that every individual receive proper due process and equal protection of the laws. This means that judges should not be punishing parents for not getting along and should not be punishing parents for getting divorced. When the public starts to understand this properly the right problem can be addressed.

Disagreeing with the other parent is a First Amendment protected right of conscience. Do you want the government telling you who you have to agree with? Do you want the government taking from you if you do not get along with who they tell you to get along with?

The First Amendment guarantees your free association right to marry who you choose and the government cannot punish that right even if you decide to marry someone the government doesn’t like such as someone of another race. The exact same amendment protects your right to make mistakes in marriage and to dissolve that marriage through divorce if you choose. The government is not allowed to punish these decisions. They are yours to freely make.

If the consequence of your making this “free” choice is that your children are stolen from you, do you really have any freedom to make the choice? Are you really living in a “free” country if the government can punish you for making constitutionally protected choices?

Misleading statement commonly made, repeated by Reporter Abbas, made about the bill, was, that “others don’t like the state stepping in on such a vital issue.” It is false to believe that the state is not already stepping in when they make parents fight over custody in the first place. It is the government’s insistence that there can be only one that causes the fight in the first place.


Representative Runestad researched this issue and stated, “We looked at county by county statistics on what happens in custody situations and what we found out is that the custody arrangements are not determined by the kind of parent that you are, but (by) the judge in the county…”  

The current bill being proposed does not solve the problem but is attempting to move the presumption in the right direction and currently reads:

  • Require a judge to grant joint legal custody and substantially equal parenting time, unless there’s a preponderance of evidence of domestic violence in the family where neither parent could receive more than 200 overnights.
  • Prohibit a parent from moving more than 80 miles away from the other parent.
  • If a child is 16 or older, the child’s preference on custody has to be given substantial weight by the judge.

This bill does get closer to the presumption of equal custody, and is an improvement, however it still needs work. For instance, the section that says that the state is going to give a child’s preference substantial weight at 16 should be eliminated. Does the state allow 16 year olds to ignore their married parents or choose to live elsewhere? Does the state strip the parents of parental authority to protect their 16 year-olds and to keep them at home?  When the state removes authority that is necessary for the parent to be able to continue to influence and direct the child, the state removes the parent’s ability to parent and removes that authority the child depends on for their safety, security, and stability. When the parent becomes afraid to parent their child and the child becomes insecure, this leads to all kinds of destructive behaviors in a child. The child starts attempting to control their environment by attempting to control the parents. Parents become afraid to tell the child “no” because the child can just threaten to go live with the other parent or to, as is commonly heard by parents in child custody suits, “tell the judge” or “tell the amicus or Guardian ad litem” or “counselor.” That is exactly what a 4-year-old boy did when his father, David Schorr, wouldn’t take him to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal in New York in 2013. The court-appointed shrink on the case deemed the father unfit to parent and requested the father be placed on supervised visitation.

Parenting Gets Punished

The child learns quickly that the parents no longer have the power and authority for the final say and therefore the child can use this to manipulate the parents to get their own way. When a parent does not bend to this pressure, the parent is often punished by the Court, many have their time with their child stripped, their authority, and they are told to pay the other parent child support. When that child says, “I am going to stay out all night with my boyfriend,” what is the parent to do? Say no, and have the child go live with the other more permissive parent?

Divorced and Single Parents are Held to Different Standards than Other Parents

This Bill also does absolutely nothing to correct the discriminatory idea of holding one set of fit parents to the higher standard of “the best interest of the child” while married parents and state agencies are only held to minimum standards of care. By what authority does the state hold one set of parents to a higher standard? Is it just because they made the constitutionally protected choice to never marry or to divorce the other parent? Is that what gives the state authority to discriminate against parents? Isn’t that called discrimination based on marital status? 

This Bill just passed the committee Tuesday on a 6-3 party line vote with Republicans voting for it and Democrats opposed. That does not make this bill law yet. It still has to go to a vote on the House floor and then the Senate. This bill is not expected to go to the full House before the summer. The Michigan House breaks for the summer.

Some information was taken from the following stories: (Anything not in quotes in this article is the content and thoughts from Fix Family Courts Ron and Sherry Palmer.)