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Melissa A. Featherston

Proposed Missouri bill could aid fathers in child custody battles

A proposed child custody bill in Missouri would allow unmarried fathers the right to an expedited hearing when there are allegations of violations against visitation or custody agreements. At this time, only divorced or separated parents can receive a faster hearing. If the House Bill passes, fathers who are not married to their children's mothers but have had legal paternity established will be authorized this right as well. This could benefit children involved in child custody battles, and fathers who may have otherwise had to wait to have their cases heard.

The representative who introduced the legislation has stated that he is trying to assist those who may be in a unique relationship situation, such as unmarried parents. Examples of violations that would be eligible to receive an expedited hearing could involve parents who may visit a child at an inappropriate time, or parents with plans to take their children out of the state without gaining permission from the other parent. The representative said that the state's Supreme Court has already ruled unmarried people cannot be treated any differently than those who are married.

The bill should align the law with the court's ruling. At this time, there has been no hearing date set. If the law passes it will be a meaningful step toward recognizing the constantly changing state of relationships within Missouri.

Child custody battles are often lengthy and difficult, and sometimes fathers may have challenges in having their side of the story heard, especially if they are not married. The proposed bill is slated to change that and will allow fathers the opportunity to ensure fairness in custody proceedings, while also easing delays. Knowing one's rights as they pertain to custody could help individuals obtain an agreement equitable for both parents as well as their children.

Source: News-Leader.com, "Bill targets custody disputes," Jonathan Shorman, Feb. 22, 2013

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