Part 3 of 3
When Mike Espinoza met state Senator Sylvia Allen and told her the story about his divorce and his fight for equal custody of his sons, Allen encouraged him to join an organization which could help him and other fathers makes changes to family-law legislation in Arizona. This organization was the Domestic Relations Committee whose purpose is to research family-law issues and propose new legislation for the state of Arizona. This committee is composed of anti-domestic-violence organizations, attorneys, judges, parents, faith-based organizations and lawmakers.
Espinoza began working with several politicians to draft legislation and, if the bills failed, rewrite the bills to try to improve custody issues for fathers in Arizona. According to Espinoza, even though it has been a long process, judges are now splitting custody of minor children 50/50 in most divorce cases in Arizona if it is in the best interest of the child. One of the laws Espinoza worked on was named after one of his sons, 12-year-old Ammon. Ammon and his father have not seen each other for four years because of the court’s custody ruling, and now must go through reunification counseling, which they have not done. Ammon has said that he does not want to see his father.
Mike McCormick, executive director of the Washington D.C. based American Coalition for Fathers and Children, stated that Arizona is among the leading states pushing for shared parenting time. McCormick added that states have different statutes and requirements when it comes to custody of children in a divorce, but judges nationwide tend to limit the non-custodial parent’s access to their children. He also stated that activists like Mike Espinoza are helping to change visitation and custody issues around the country. He feels that those professionals who work with divorcing parents need to do more public outreach, especially among those parents who do not divorce through the courts.
Although there are many supporters for equal custody, there are other professionals who believe that each case should be looked at individually as there are situations when shared custody is not in the best interest of the child. Domestic violence groups are closely watching the equal custody issue to ensure that it does not expose children to an abusive parent.
Arizona’s new law does require judges to make decisions that are based on a child’s best interest, but now their best interest includes maximum time for both parents when advisable.
Perhaps divorcing parents need to have Mike Espinoza’s outlook – if the courts assure both parents equal time, then couples will stop fighting over custody. Espinoza said that when there’s “nothing left to fight about, hopefully the divorce rate will go down and families will stay together.”