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Dads disappointed by changes in child custody bill

Father’s rights advocates say they are down but not out after passage of a substitute bill originally aimed at giving both parents joint custody rights in divorce cases.

The legislation is House Bill 84, sponsored by Delegate David Albo, R-Springfield. Originally, it stated that in a divorce “in which custody or visitation is at issue, there shall be a rebuttable assumption that it is in the best interests of the child that the parents be awarded joint physical custody and that no parent’s share of physical custody shall be for a period of less than two-fifths of the child’s time.”

Fathers and their advocates strongly supported that wording.

“No man can be a father to his children on the basis of seeing them every other weekend,” said Kenneth Skilling, a Fairfax County resident and former president of Fathers for Virginia, which provides support for divorced fathers.

But the language was changed radically as HB 84 made its way through the legislative process. The substitute bill approved by the General Assembly and sent this week to Gov. Bob McDonnell omits any mention of the presumption of joint custody. It simply states that judges must communicate the reasoning for their decisions on custody or visitation to all parties involved.

“The bill has unfortunately dramatically changed from the last one that was introduced,” said Diane Poljacik, a child custody mediator who supported the original wording of HB 84.

She said the measure that was passed “does nothing to change anything of importance. Judges are already supposed to communicate the basis for their decision. So what does this change?”

The text of HB 84 was changed in the House Courts of Justice Committee. The substitute bill then was approved unanimously by the House and the Senate.

Current Virginia law does not state a preference for either parent in custody cases. It states:

“In determining custody, the court shall give primary consideration to the best interests of the child. The court shall assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children. As between the parents, there shall be no presumption or inference of law in favor of either. The court shall give due regard to the primacy of the parent-child relationship but may upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence that the best interest of the child would be served thereby award custody or visitation to any other person with a legitimate interest. The court may award joint custody or sole custody.”

But in practice, courts overwhelmingly favor mothers over fathers on custody issues, father’s rights advocates say.

Skilling cited a 2011 study by the Virginia Department of Child Support Enforcement, which found that only 6 percent of custodial parents were male. In the remaining instances, fathers were awarded visitation and legally relegated to the term “visitor.”

Supporters of the original draft of HB 84 gave a series of emotional testimony before the House Courts of Justice Committee in January. “I haven’t seen my children in over two years because of the way the court system currently functions,” said David Scolamiero, who spoke on behalf of Virginia Equal Parents, a group seeking reform of custody laws.

“Instead of a father having to fight for time with the children he loves, the legal system would begin with the presumption that he merits equal time,” Scolamiero said.

HB 84 wasn’t the only bill advocating joint custody in divorce cases. HB 606, sponsored by Delegate James LeMunyon, R-Chantilly, contained similar language. It sought to establish “a presumption in child custody cases that an award of joint legal custody, with physical custody, to the extent feasible, shared equally between the parties, is in the best interests of the child.”

LeMunyon’s bill died in the House Courts of Justice Committee.

Supporters of such legislation are looking forward to next year’s legislation session. They plan to push for a joint custody bill again before the 2013 General Assembly.


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Do the Bunny Hop over to Meadow Farm on Saturday for an introduction to all the farm animals there! An introduction to “Global Sounds” – featuring Japanese, Indonesian, West African, Indian, and Brazilian music and dance performances – can be found at the University of Richmond. The University of Richmond will also host the annual Spider spring game, as well as the inaugural Spiders Easter Egg Hunt. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

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