Emotional debate accompanies discussion of custody bill

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The House Judiciary Committee met for a public hearing Tuesday regarding SB333, a bill from Sen. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) that would redefine language related to parental custody in an effort to move away from the concept that one parent has sole physical custody.

The bill is aimed at encouraging judges to more equitably arrange parental custody, preferably a 50/50 split between both parties, and allow for the joint creation of a parenting plan.

“Co-parenting is becoming more and more the norm,” Jones said. “Families are different and we’ve got to come up with different kinds of plans.”

Several people were lined up to speak for and against the legislation, the first Ray Maloy, a father of two who said he’s nearly gone bankrupt fighting his ex-wife’s pursuit of sole custody. Maloy hasn’t seen his children in about eight years, he said.

Maloy contended the bill has “no teeth” and although it purports to advocate for split parenting rights, includes no language urging judges to seek to that goal.

Another emotional testimony was given by Tina Grosch, a Lauderdale County mother whose parental rights were taken away on “unsubstantiated” charges. As a result, Grosch was allowed to see her children only at visitation centers, which cost her $30 an hour, under the supervision of counselors that have since been charged with fraud.

“In my mind, visitation is for criminals,” Grosch said. “I get less visitation with my children than felons in our state prisons.”

Perhaps the most stirring plea against the bill came from Crenshaw County lawyer Melissa Isaac, who represents fathers in divorce battles. According to Isaac, it would be easy to prove that a widespread bias against fathers exists in family courts.

“Children do best when their relationship with both parents is preserved,” Isaac said. “If both parents are fit parents then there is no reason dad can’t have equal time as mom. Let’s start from a place of equality.”

Phillip Lisenby, a family court judge from Northport, supported the bill on the grounds that it maintains the discretion of judges in deciding what is best for a child.

“I see this as a step forward,” Lisenby said. “I see this bill as merely an expression of our Legislature to say we want to encourage joint custody.”

No vote was taken on the measure and it will appear before the committee again next week.

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