There’s currently pending in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, House Bill 2684 that would require judges in custody cases to “maximize the amount of time the child spends with each parent, to the extent possible.” Fathers and Families has been instrumental in backing the bill. It’s pending before the joint House and Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
Here’s the text of the bill.
HO2684 would establish a presumption of joint custody – not equal joint custody, just custody in which each parent would get some time with the child. It then goes on to require the maximum time possible for each parent. It also would require a judge to grant joint custody during the pendency of the divorce.
All of that is subject to the exception of abuse or neglect. If either parent is found to have abused or neglected the child, all bets are off and the judge can order whatever he/she considers to be in the child’s best interests.
The bill also requires the judge in a custody case to make written findings if he/she deviates from the presumption. That’s important because, as things stand now, judges frequently make rulings on custody without saying why or making written findings of fact. A parent who wants to contest the ruling therefore has nothing to point to that can be verified to be wrong, making reversal on appeal a virtual impossibility.
Unfortunately, HO2684 faces an obstacle that shared parenting has yet to overcome in the past in Massachusetts – Senator Cynthia Creem. She’s the co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. She’s also a divorce lawyer who receives the bulk of her income from divorce and custody cases. As such, laws that would make custody cases easier and less contentious aren’t in her financial interest.
And so, to no one’s great surprise, in the past Creem has blocked any bill that would improve fathers’ rights in family courts. She’s in a position to do that again irrespective of the fact that she has an apparent conflict of interest regarding the bill.
If you want to tell the Massachusetts Legislature how you feel about shared parenting, here’s a petition you can sign supporting the bill.
There’s also a good summary of the bill – what’s in it and what’s not – by Massachusetts dad, Michael Burgraff. He also gives some of the social science that argues for keeping both parents in children’s lives post-divorce.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• It instructs the court to “maximize the amount of time the child spends with each parent, to the extent possible.’
• The bill does not create more parental conflict, but rather diminishes it.
Children overwhelmingly wish to spend time with both of their parents and they benefit from having both parents actively involved in their lives. A rebuttable presumption of shared parenting would lessen parental conflict because both parents would know beforehand that they would have an active and fulfilling role in their children’s lives. Please support shared parenting legislation both in Massachusetts and other states that seek to improve the lives of children.
Professor Edward Kruk of the University of British Columbia has reported exactly what Burgraff is saying. First, Kruk cites studies showing that 77% of children of divorce say they’d prefer to spend equal time with each parent. Second, he refers to analyses of North American data showing that shared parenting tends to reduce conflict between parents over time.
That last is particularly significant because it hits at one of the few arguments on which the anti-father forces rely to oppose father-child relationships. They often claim that shared parenting shouldn’t be tried in custody cases in which there’s a lot of parental conflict. On the contrary, the data cited by Kruk show that shared parenting tends to ameliorate conflict between parents.
My guess is that’s why Cynthia Creem opposes it. Divorce lawyers thrive on parental conflict; their bank accounts dwindle when parents get along.
So by all means, make your voice heard. Sign the petition and let’s finally make shared parenting a reality in Massachusetts.