Law: Grant equal custody to parents

Family law attorney says governor should veto bill


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tommy Clay says he hasn't seen his four daughters in months.

"It's very devastating, one of the hardest things I've had to deal with in my life," he said.

Clay said the court won't allow him to see his kids, and he's been fighting it for years. He may finally have some relief if a new state bill is signed into law.

"I think it's going to cut out a lot of the bickering in the court systems," Clay said. "I've had experiences where it's taken me eight months just to get into court just to talk about custody of the kids and child support, and that's time taken away from the kids and they're not seeing this parent and that parent. If it was just a standard, a lot of that stuff would be eliminated."

If the law passes, the standard would become equal custody granted to both parents.

But many family law attorneys, like Jonathan Zahler, say the governor should veto the bill.

"It's a really bad law and it oversteps a lot of judicial discretion," Zahler said.

Zahler says that in many cases, discretion is needed.

"You might have a situation where you have a parent who's never been involved with the kids or just has been a Disney parent type of thing, and all of a sudden they get to step in and say, 'Hey, because the statute says so, I get equal time sharing,' and it may be horrible for the kids," Zahler said. "There may be no stability in this home, there may be issues with illicit substances. Who knows? It doesn't matter. It's basically telling the courts, 'You shall do this.'"

The other part of the bill limits alimony based on income and length of marriage. Instead of "til death do us part," this law would require an ex-spouse to only pay alimony for up to half the length of the marriage.

That's something else Zahler is not a fan of.

"It doesn't take into account that this person may be injured," he said. "It doesn't take into account that the spouse paying the alimony may have cheated on them and run away. It takes nothing into account as to the specific circumstances of the people."

But supporters say the bill provides relief for those bound to a lifelong financial obligation.

And people like Clay, who's hoping to see his daughters soon, hope the governor signs it.

"I'll feel like I'm getting somewhere a little bit," Clay said. "Maybe we'll see after it's signed. So we'll just have to wait and see."

Gov. Rick Scott has until Monday to sign the bill, veto it or let it go into law without his signature. If passed, the changes would go into effect July 1.

Scott recently celebrated 41 years of marriage with his wife and high school sweetheart, Ann.