Perhaps the nuts & bolts legislation that did the most to change the status-quo was Parenting Plans. At its core it was a simple idea: In a divorce case (or paternity case), no longer would the Judge decide custody, which parent gets the kids, choosing one fit parent over the other. Rather, the parents themselves (with the help of a mediator if necessary) would draw up a parenting plan detailing the times they each would have the kids. No more custody labels. No more winner-take-all. Child support was separated from custody. Self-determined divorce. Kids would no longer be in the middle. Each parent’s involvement in the future up-bringing of their children would be maximized.
Like many of my ideas, it was based on real-life experience. In 1985, two years before I got elected, Brad Hipple hired me to be his divorce lawyer. He told me they had one kid together, a two year-old, and all he wanted was to keep being a Dad. However, a year ago his wife had convinced him they needed a cooling-off period to save the marriage and got him to move back to his parents’ house, even convincing him to start working overtime to help pay-off bills now that he had nothing better to do.
But Brad had waited too long to see a lawyer. She was going to win the kid because the kid was only two and had been in her custody for almost half the kid’s life. He was going to have to pay extra in child support because he had had a year of increased earnings. Plus I had to tell him, “If you agree to let her have custody, she can move – with the kid – back to her parents’ in Oregon – so you need to start a custody fight regardless whether such a thing would be bad for the kid.”
And so, for the umpteenth time, I start on an unnecessary, expensive, demeaning custody battle asking him, “What are the worst things you can say about Mom?” poisoning the well for any future parental cooperation. Sure enough, in the end we couldn’t convince Mom to be reasonable, she had such a good hand to play, and the Judge decided, “given the child’s tender years,” to let Mom have custody. Lo and behold, within the year she and the kid moved to Oregon, and Brad was relegated to only being a visitor a couple times a year.
Tomorrow: A sea change in politics takes more than one session.