State News

H3295 THE HOUSE BILL THAT COULD CHANGE FAMILY COURT FOR THE GOOD

H3295 is a Shared Parenting Bill Sponsored by House Representative Jason Elliott (R) https://legiscan.com/SC/bill/H3295/2019 and 11 other House Representatives.  This Shared Parenting Bill would ensure Children’s Rights to maintain both parents in their life equally absent any provable neglect or abuse.  Since 2018 several other States have passed similar bills ensuring our Children’s Rights.  This Bill was profiled on December 18th, 2018 and has been blocked by Representative Beth Bernstein, who is a Family Court Attorney.

One of the major parts to this bill is the required “Rebuttable Presumption”.  A rebuttable presumption is an assumption of fact accepted by the court until disproved. All presumptions can be characterized as rebuttable.  It is an assumption that is made in the law that will stand as a fact unless someone comes forward to contest it and prove otherwise.  This must be proven with “the clear and convincing rule”.

In plain English it means the Courts would have to state that Equal or Shared Parenting allotting equal time for both the parents with the child is in the best interest of the child.  Unless one party can prove with factual evidence that it would not be in the child’s best interest.  This would remove the long standing “preponderance of evidence rule”.

Over the past several years there have been many Grassroots Movements rising up demanding that Shared Parenting be the norm in Family Courts.  Organizations such as The National Parent’s Organization, Americans for Equal Shared Parenting and FamilyVoice are just a few of the many organizations.

The National Parents Organization or NPO has been monitoring States for several years on their Children Laws.  Each year they give out a score card evaluating under strict guidelines.  Currently the NPO has given South Carolina a D- for its practices in Family Courts concerning custody of children.  https://nationalparentsorganization.org/information-resources/2019-shared-parenting-report-card

Let’s take a look at why South Carolina ranks so low in Custody Laws by the NPO and other shared parenting organizations.  South Carolina Title 63 governs the statues for children, https://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/title63.php.

As we began to comb through them we notice certain things.  Courts are suppose to take into consideration a child’s preference (State Statue §63-15-30),  but at no point in our investigation has a Family Court Judge or Guardian ad Litem (GAL) ever listened to  or stated a child’s preference.  The only time we were able to find this was a 1982 case where a Judge gave a 12 year old boy the opportunity to state his wishes.    How does a Family Court Judge take into consideration a child’s preference when the child is not given the opportunity to state his or her preference?

We also noticed that the words “clear and convincing” are used and that a Family Court Judge must state in writing why they made their decision for custody.  In our review of several Custody Orders and Divorce Decrees we did not see any Judge write why they made their decision.  This could be simply due to the fact that Judges do not write these Orders, but instruct one of the attorneys to write them.  This practice is considered “Ghost Writing” and is frowned upon by many State Supreme Justices and U.S. Supreme Justices.  This practice allows an attorney to interject biased language against one party.

South Carolina’s Father’s receive only 27.8% of time with their children after a divorce or custody hearing. This comes to the every other weekend visit, which Father’s receive in South Carolina.

In many studies done on children and their behaviors after a loving parent is removed it has been documented that their behaviors lead to what is sometimes referred to as “Risk Behavior”.

Ana Nogales Ph. D wrote in Psychology Today “Taking a child from their parents can be psychological torture for the child. I still remember stories and images from the Holocaust where children were separated from their parents. Many survivors reported that they remained anxious and dysfunctional for the rest of their lives, and untold numbers struggled with lifelong anxietyand depression. I recall how the world repudiated such atrocities.

Researchers have examined the mental health problems connected to forced family separations. They have discovered a myriad of issues that have negatively impacted children and caused or exacerbated mental health problems such as depressive or anxiety disorders. The emotional and social development of these children are affected and they are more likely to experience challenges with behavior, emotional regulation, physical health, and academic outcomes in the future.” (Read full article here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/family-secrets/201807/children-separated-parents)

Family Courts are suppose to hold “THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD” as its guiding rule.

In the past other Shared Parenting Bills have been proposed in the State Legislature but have been held up to the point of dismissal.  H3295 is such a bill being held up by House Representative Beth Bernstein (D) who is also a Family Court Attorney, as stated above.  The Daily Counter has run several articles concerning Family Courts and its practices, and once again we see a Lawyer/Politician exerting their power to block something that might be “In the Best Interest” of children.

We would like to note that no part of this Bill concerns any issues of Child Support.  As South Carolina maintains the issues of Custody/Visitation and Child Support separate.

COMMENTS FROM REPRESENTATIVES
(At time of Publication No Comment was received from Rep. Jason Elliott or Rep. Beth Bernstein.)

We reached out to Representative Johnathan Hill (who is co-sponsoring) by email and this was his reply to our questions:

Why do you feel this bill is needed in SC?

This bill is needed to correct an overt and long-standing bias in family court to give one parent custody and the other parent visitation. This is bad for kids, because they need to be with the opportunity to be with both parents, as long as both parents are fit and do not pose a danger of harm to the child.

> What do you believe will be needed for it to pass?

I think the bill could pass despite the attorney-legislators, if it ever came up for a vote. You see, some of these attorney-legislators happen to be committee chairs, who have nearly unlimited power to decide what bills come up for a vote and which ones don’t. In this case, attorney-legislator Beth Bernstein is the committee chair in charge of this particular bill, and she is blocking it.

All of this can be overcome with a concerted effort to mobilize outside pressure from the grassroots and opposing candidates.
> What hindrances do you feel this bill has come across?

Because this bill changes the custody default (in legal jargon, it’s called a “rebuttable presumption”), it makes it tougher for family court attorneys to engineer a lopsided outcome in favor of their client. Consider that there are dozens of attorney-legislators in the state house and senate, who are connected to and probably funded by other attorneys in the state.

There is another reason that state politicians oppose this bill. The number of lopsided custody decisions by family judges also sets the amount of Title IV-D revenue we get from the federal government. So, this bill could reduce federal funding coming into the state budget. It’s the worst kind of perverse incentive. Basically, the state monetizes family breakups and the kids suffer the most.

The State views children under the age of 18 as property with no rights to speak in their own interest in Family Courts.  Loving and Fit parents are denied the right to speak for their children.  Instead untrained and unqualified Guardian ad Litems , who are mostly attorney’s, give loose reports without ever having really spoken with the children.  Now it is also against the law for these GAL’s to give any sort of custody recommendation unless asked to the court.  These tactics force a loving parent to spend every cent they have to fight for their children.

Family Court is a $50 Billion a year Industry for States, Courts, and Lawyers.  Ranging from incentive payments to the State under Social Security Title IV-D, to Court costs and attorney fees.  You have to ask yourself why would these individuals want things to change?  If things changed they would not make as much money as they do now.

South Carolina states in Statue that it has a vested interest in keeping families together, but does the exact opposite in its Family Courts.  We have observed back room law practices between Lawyers and Judges in a wide variety of cases in Family Courts throughout the State, all ignoring the children who are suffering in those cases.

We wonder how Legislators such as Beth Bernstein can sleep at night with the weight of so many children being used as weapons against loving parents for profit in Family Courts on their conscience.  How many children must suffer before things change?

With Juvenile Suicides being at an all time high how can Beth Bernstain justify these children taking their life when these statistics could be minimized by allowing access to both fit parents in Family Court.  Thousands of parents have rallied on Social Media for this change to protect our Children’s Rights and have contacted their Legislators demanding change for our children.  Now a hand full of Legislators such as Representative Johnathon Hill have taken up the torch to speak and push for our Children’s Rights to be heard.

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