Missouri introduces ‘father-focused’ residence law

    The Midwestern American state has introduced a law intended to make child residence rulings more gender-neutral.

    The new Bill, House Bill 1550 – also known as the ‘Shared Parenting Bill’ will prevent the family courts awarding residence to one parent specifically on the basis of their gender, age or financial status.

    The Bill will also require the Missouri Supreme Court to publish guidelines setting out the approach to be taken by the courts in specific circumstances rather than applying a ready-made parenting plan that does not account for each family’s nuances.

    Family court judges will be encouraged to put traditional gender stereotypes to one side and for the default position to be that children spend roughly the same amount of time with each parent. At present, mothers are typically awarded residence and the fathers awarded an agreed contact pattern or occasional visitation rights whether or not the father has been fully involved in the child’s care and upbringing to date. The new legislation will require an explanation to be provided each and every time shared residence has not been awarded.

    The Bill reflects the approach the English courts take when making a ‘child arrangement order’. The English approach is that every child has a right to spend time and have contact with each of its parents. It is primarily the child’s right, not the parent’s right, that the courts are interested in.

    The English courts have not always taken this approach but Section 11 of the Child and Families Act 2014 now provides that when the court makes a decision about who a child should live or spend time with, there is a presumption (unless the contrary is shown) that the involvement of both parents in the child’s life will further the child’s welfare. This is referred to as the ‘the presumption of parental involvement’ and it is good to see similar development in children law across the globe.