According to Jeremy Roberts with the Missouri Fathers' Rights Movement, beginning Sunday, family courts will be required to answer eight questions to determine a custody arrangement in the best interest of the child. Questions consider which parent the child wishes to live with as well as the mental and physical health of all parties.
"Prior to this law, the courts could or could not answer those questions. This bill forces them to have to answer each one of those," Roberts said.
More than 80 percent of child custody cases in Missouri default primary custody to the child's mother, according to Linda Reutzel with the National Parents Organization of Missouri. Fathers are often granted visitation with their child one night each week and every other weekend.
This was the case for Reutzel's son when he and his wife divorced.
"My son was a hands on father," Reutzel said. "His wife worked some nights and some weekends so he did everything for that child from infancy on. There was absolutely no reason for him to not get (equal time with his daughter)."
Six weeks after Mark Ludwig's son was born, he said his son's mother moved away and took their baby with her. Ludwig said he worried he would never see his son again.
Ludwig said he hired a private investigator and nearly went bankrupt searching for his son. It would be 204 days before Ludwig would see his son again. With their current visitation arrangement, Ludwig said he has collectively spent about one year with his son during his six and a half years of life.
"Before it happened to me, I just assumed that if a father wasn't spending time with their kids, they were the typical 'dead beat dad' who probably didn't have an interest in the kids and probably shouldn't have had custody anyway," he said.
Supporters hope the new law will eventually lead to "shared parenting" where custody and parenting time are split evenly between parents.
National Parents Organization
The Missouri Fathers' Rights Movement
The Fathers' Rights Movement
Missouri House Bill 1550 (in its entirety)