MONTGOMERY — Sen. Larry Stutts says too many Alabama judges deciding custody disputes automatically give mothers primary custody of children.

“The data supports that shared custody helps kids,” Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, said Thursday. “The more involved both parents are, the better.”

Stutts, whose district includes part of Lawrence County, said his Senate Bill 211, the Children’s Equal Access Act, provides guidelines for the judge to “start in the middle” and consider multiple factors when deciding custody. It states “there shall be a rebuttable presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of the child.”

The bill calls for a parenting plan “that specifies the time which a minor child will spend with each parent.”

Current law says courts may designate one parent to have sole power to make certain decisions regarding the child. Stutts’ bill adds language to say “that designation does not negate the responsibility of that parent to discuss those decisions with the other parent and to consider the other parent’s wishes and concerns.”

The bill cleared the Senate on Thursday and now moves to the House.

Opponents of the bill said it wasn’t needed and took away judges’ ability to make decisions that are best for children.

Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, was one of eight senators to vote against the bill.

“We’re getting away from a standard of what’s in the best interest of the child and moving to a standard of what’s more fair for the parents,” Brewbaker said.

Stutts later said his bill doesn’t tie judges’ hands.

If joint custody is not awarded, the court must consider multiple factors before granting one parent primary custody, including the moral, mental and physical fitness of each parent; each parent's home environment and criminal history; the characteristics of those seeking custody, including age, character, stability, and mental and physical health; and the preference of the child if the child is of sufficient age and maturity.

This is the third year Stutts has sponsored such legislation. Twitter @DD_MarySell.
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