Group calls for changes to Iowa divorce, custody laws

Legislator: 'Damage being done, and anger'

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DES MOINES — A stream of grievances from Iowans frustrated with the state’s divorce and custody laws left one state lawmaker thinking the issues lie beyond policy.

Iowa Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, and the advocacy group Family United Action Network hosted a meeting Friday at the Iowa Capitol, during which Iowans were encouraged to propose changes to Iowa’s divorce and custody laws.

Roughly a dozen Iowans gave testimonials, sharing their dismay with how they were treated through divorce or custody proceedings.

Some of the stories left an impression on Schultz.

“One of my surprise takeaways was the level of damage being done, and anger, are more visceral and more base than I expected,” Schultz said.

“I thought we were going to talk a little bit about some policy changes, and they’re actually talking about abusing citizens under the current system we have,” he said. “It’s hard to even get to changing policy when you’re hearing such dramatic instances of actual abuse or mishandling.”

Schultz noted no representatives of state agencies, law enforcement or the courts were present to respond to the allegations.

Nicholas Dreeszen, who started Family United Action Network three years ago, said the group advocates for changes to state law, including 50/50 shared parenting as a default custody arrangement “unless proven it is harmful to the children.”

Current law authorizes judges to award joint physical care in custody arrangements but does not require it.

Legislation that would require joint physical care passed the Republican-controlled Iowa House this year but was not taken up by the Democrat-controlled Iowa Senate.

Some of the speakers also called for legislative oversight of the state’s child protective services program.

“I think we can all agree (the system) is broken right now, and if we don’t try anything new, we know what we’re going to get,” Dreeszen said. “I’m so glad we’re talking, but we need action.”

Travis Grassel, of Johnston, said the current custody system is too adversarial and that reform would be in the best interest of children of divorcing parents. Grassel is divorced with two sons.

“Too many children are growing up without both parents, and they need access to both parents,” Grassel said. “Our system is broken. You’ve heard that from a number of people. Please fix it.”

Schultz said his reaction to the meeting was that the system requires more than just legislative repair.

“I think (oversight) should be happening alongside and parallel with the shared parenting (law change), with policy changes,” Schultz said. “I’m somewhat taken aback by some of the stories that were recited here.”s

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