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Bill would give children a voice in visitation

March 03, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

Older children should have a voice in parental visitation rights, said Del. Robert A. McKee, and he's proposed legislation that would require judges in custody cases to consult children aged 14 or older for their preferences.

McKee said he sponsored the bill on behalf of a Hagerstown resident whose daughter didn't want visitation with the noncustodial parent but was told by a judge that she had no choice.

McKee presented the bill to the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. While the bill stipulates judges must consult children at age 14, it also allows them to consider the preferences of younger children "if the child has sufficient maturity and is able to intelligently express a voluntary preference for a visitation schedule."

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It also asks judges to consider a child's extracurricular activities when making or modifying visitation orders.

Currently, a child 16 or older can petition to change custody. Other states, such as California, Connecticut and Oklahoma, have enacted laws authorizing courts to consider a child's preferences when making custody and visitation orders, according to an analysis by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

McKee said that Pennsylvania allows courts to consider preferences of children at age 12.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill Thursday, but McKee did not speculate on its chances of passage.

The Judiciary Committee, which must approve the bill before it could get a full House vote, "looks at things through the legalese perspective," McKee said. "I look at common sense.

"I think children should have some say and have a voice," he said, but added that a noncustodial parent "who pays child support should have visitation rights."

House bill 1067

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