Shared Parenting Bill in Massachusetts
North Adams Transcript
Thursday, September 25, 2003
Fathers seek shared parenting rights
by Erik Arvidson, Transcript Statehouse Bureau
BOSTON -- State lawmakers are considering a measure that would
give noncustodial parents equal status in parenting after a divorce and
eliminate what critics say are unfair laws that discriminate against
Advocates for fathers' rights will urge a legislative panel today to
pass a bill that would allow judges in divorce cases to establish a
plan for shared parenting of a child.
The Judiciary Committee is also considering a similar measure that
would curb the rights of a custodial parent to move with their child to
another state without the consent of the other parent.
"What this does is puts the welfare of the child above the parental
rights," said Rep. Colleen Garry, a Dracut Democrat and cosponsor
of the bill. "It starts with the public policy that states both parents
are important to the child and that both should have legal and physical
custody, assuming one of them doesn't abuse the child."
The bill is cosponsored by state Rep. David Torrisi, D-North Andover,
and state Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr., D-Pittsfield.
Under the legislation, if a Probate and Family Court determines that
both parents are fit to care for their children and neither is a threat
to the child, both parents would have shared legal and physical custody
of the child.
The bill allows a judge to grant sole custody to one of the parents
if it is determined that the child would be harmed as a result of the
In addition, the judge can revoke the shared custody arrangement if
one parent is found to be abusing alcohol or drugs, or has a history
of deserting the child. The judge would be able to issue a restraining
order against that parent.
If the parents are granted shared custody, the judge is required to
"endeavor to maximize the exposure of the child to each of the parents
so far as is practicable."
Ned Holstein, president of Fathers & Families, which advocates for
additional rights for fathers in divorce cases, said the bill would not
mandate precisely equal time with the child to both parents.
"It does not mandate 50-50 with both parents," Holstein said. "There
are too many families where that would not work, where maybe the father
is working 60 hours per week or the parents live far apart. It does say
that the judge has to maximize the amount of time of the child with
both parents if it's practical."
Holstein said that recent research suggests strongly that children grow
up well adjusted and with fewer problems such as depression and
committing violence if the father plays a prominent role in their life.
"People kind of pay lip service to the importance of having two
parents," Holstein said. "But all of our societal efforts are bent on
making things as good as possible for the custodial parent. If the mom
finds the father is an intrusion, the laws empower her to be the sole
parent, and his role should be dependent on what she thinks is best."
In many divorce cases, Holstein added, the role of the father with the
child becomes "like a friendly uncle, where they are not really a big
factor in the child's life."
Holstein believes that the bill is not only good for the child and the
father, but also better for the mother because it would increase the
father's role in the decision making.
Fathers & Families is also supporting a separate bill that would make
it more difficult for the custodial parent to move out of state with
the child without the father and the child playing a role in the decision.
Fathers' rights groups argue that there are enough protections in the
bill against abusive parents that one parent should not have the right
to move out of state with the child without the other parent's input.
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