Action Alert: Boston Globe Calls for MA Courts to Be ‘Monitored Closely to Ensure That Fathers Get Fair Treatment,’ Carps at F & F’s Shared Parenting Bill

The Boston Globe’s Sunday lead editorial Child-custody cases demand discretion, not new laws (6/13/10) focuses on Fathers & Families’ shared parenting bill HB 1400. The editorial arose out of contacts between Fathers & Families’ Board Chair Ned Holstein, MD, Massachusetts shared parenting activist Dr. Peter Hill, and the Globe. The Globe had previously endorsed shared parenting in principle in its 2008 editorial A fair role for fathers(Boston Globe, 2/23/08) after meeting with Dr. Holstein.
The new editorial has positives and negatives. Among the positives, it says “No one can argue against the goal of giving fathers a large presence in their children”s lives.” Moreover, it makes an important call for Massachusetts family courts to “be monitored closely to ensure that fathers get fair treatment, and that, as much as possible, both parents get ample time with their children.” However, the editorial disappoints in failing to endorse a presumption of shared parenting and/or HB 1400 as a solution, calling our bill “too broad an approach to a challenging issue that demands nuanced, case-by-case decisions based on the best interests of the child.” As Dr. Holstein explained to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in his testimony on HB 1400, the bill isn’t too broad and “does not limit judicial discretion, mandate 50/50 parenting or any other specific parenting schedule, increase parental conflict or re-litigation, diminish protections against domestic violence, nor discard the best interest of the child standard”. To read Holstein’s written and spoken testimony, please click here. The Globe says HB 1400 “would only affect a small portion of broken families: those in which parents are unable to reach a settlement on their own.” This is the view that the Massachusetts Bar Association and misguided mothers’ advocates often advance–that most divorcing/separating parents happily work things out on their own. This simply isn’t true. Agreements are “bargained in the shadow of the law.” Many fathers are pushed to a minimal role in their children’s lives without a court fight simply because they know that they will lose and/or can’t afford an expensive legal fight. Such cases don’t represent fair or beneficial settlements, but are instead defeats for children and the fathers they love and need. The Globe also states “if parents can”t set aside their conflicts to determine the long-term best interest of their children, an ‘equal’ custody arrangement, in which the children are frequently shuttled between enemy camps, could expose them to even more rancor.” Again, this is the Massachusetts Bar Association/mothers’ advocates’ view. The central problem is that it allows for what’s called the “hostile parent veto”—when mom doesn’t want to share custody, she often creates “conflict” from which the children must be protected—by pushing the father to the margins of his children’s lives. Again, children lose. The best way to resolve conflict is a strong presumption of shared parenting in which mothers (and fathers) know that they can only deprive the other parent of shared custody by meeting a clear and convincing evidence standard of parental unfitness. This will reduce much of the conflict the Globe condemns, and will benefit children, who will have two parents in their lives instead of one. The Globe also mistakenly refers to us as “fathers rights” advocates. We are instead family court reform advocates. As Dr. Holstein is fond of saying, we’re not asking for any rights that mothers do not already enjoy, and which we want them to continue to enjoy—the right to play a meaningful role in one’s children’s lives after a divorce or separation, fair and reasonable financial arrangements, protection against false accusations, and to be treated equitably and fairly in family court. We urge all Fathers and Families supporters to write to the Boston Globe about their editorial and in support of shared parenting by clicking here. To post a comment on the story on the Globe website, click here. To volunteer to be a part of Fathers and Families’ work, click here. Shared parenting bills are difficult to pass, but F & F has come a long way with its Massachusetts shared parenting bill. The Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Massachusetts Legislature has extended HB 1400 twice. Senator Cynthia Stone Creem, the Senate Judiciary Committee Co-Chair, called Dr. Holstein recently to open a dialogue with F & F about HB 1400, and we’ve met with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who has told the Legislature that if they pass our shared parenting bill, he will sign it. Through Fathers and Families” efforts, over one-quarter of the Massachusetts Legislature has expressed clear, public support for our shared parenting bill, many of them signing on as co-sponsors. We gathered thousands of signatures to place shared parenting on the 2004 Massachusetts ballot and led a successful campaign for its passage, winning 86% of the vote. Through our efforts and the efforts of our allies, shared parenting was the most-requested plank in the Platform of the Massachusetts Democratic Party and the most popular issue on the Governor”s website in 2009. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Massachusetts’ 3rd largest newspaper, recently published a strong editorial in favor of HB 1400, and Dr. Holstein has published several op-eds on the issue, including Where’s Dad? (Boston Globe, 6/19/05) and Time for shared parenting (Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 4/29/10).

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