An Act Supporting Children and Strengthening Massachusetts Families (1 Page Summary)

One Page Summary: An Act Supporting Children and Strengthening Families (HD03194) Lead Sponsor:  Representative John Scibak • Research shows overwhelmingly that children do better in the short-term and over the course of their lives if they have two loving parents who are actively engaged in their lives. • Children with two involved parents perform better academically; they have increased cognitive abilities, higher self-esteem and greater social competence, and they have lower risks of delinquency or of emotional, behavioral, academic, legal and social problems.
• The latest research shows that children under the age of five should not be separated from either parent for more than a few days – and that spending nights in both parents” homes is essential for healthy bonding with each parent. • This bill supports children and strengthens families by creating a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting in divorce cases, so that children can sustain their loving relationships with both parents.  It puts the child”s happiness and welfare first. • If a party can show “by a preponderance of the evidence’ (the lowest standard – “more likely than not’) that the other parent has engaged in abuse or neglect of the child, the court can enter an order or judgment for sole legal or physical custody for one parent. • Further, the bill preserves “the best interest of the child’ standard.  The court just needs to make written findings that shared legal or physical custody would harm the child and find that shared legal or physical custody is not in “the best interest of the child.’ • The bill does not mandate any particular division of physical custody, such as 50/50. • The bill also preserves all existing domestic violence protections. • It instructs the court to “maximize the amount of time the child spends with each parent, to the extent possible.’ • The bill treats both parents equally, absent emergency, abuse or neglect of the child by one of the parents, and it establishes the starting point for temporary and permanent custody orders as shared parenting responsibilities. • The bill does not remove judicial discretion to order a different parenting arrangement.  Parties are expected to file detailed parenting plans to assist the court in determining a specific parenting schedule that works for each individual child, but the court may reject either or both parenting plans and craft its own plan. • It makes no changes in child support orders. • The bill does not create more parental conflict, but rather diminishes it. • It is not a one-size-fits-all mandate – any reasonable custody plan can be implemented.

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