The Iowa House has voted to makes changes in the rules judges must follow in child custody cases. Representative Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola, says many fathers contend courts are too quick to award sole custody to their child’s mother.

 “What we’re doing is just giving a little nudge to the system to say, ‘Let’s think about this. Let’s give everybody equal opportunity,'” Garrett says. “A lot of people don’t believe that’s the case now.”

The bill that has cleared the House states that joint physical custody is in the best interests of a child, unless one of the parents is able to prove otherwise to a judge. 

“I believe that children do best when they have a close relationship with both parents,” Garrett says. But Garrett says the judicial system seems geared to overlook divorced fathers who want desperately to have a larger role in his child’s life. 

Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, is an attorney who has practiced family law for 19 years. “I strongly believe that custody decisions should be made in a gender-neutral way,” she says.  That’s the way the courts operate today, according to Wolfe, and Wolfe argues the bill would force judges to give more consideration to the disagreements between the parents.

“This isn’t about being fair to dad or being fair to mom,” Wolfe says. “It’s about allowing our courts the discretion to decide what’s fair to the child.” Wolfe was among just 26 members of the House who voted against the bill. An overwhelming majority of 68 representatives voted for it. 

The measure now goes to the senate for consideration.