The Boston Globe’s editorial, Child-custody cases demand discretion, not new laws, (6/13/10) focused on Fathers & Families’ shared parenting bill, HB 1400, saying, “No one can argue against the goal of giving fathers a large presence in their children”s lives.” Moreover, it made 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 disappointed, 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.”
Marlene Wust-Smith, M.D., F.A.A.P., a longtime Fathers & Families’ supporter, sent the Globe a compelling letter in response to the editorial. Dr. Wust-Smith wrote:
I am a pediatrician who has frequently witnessed the effects of a Family Court system that traditionally has not advocated for shared parenting. Slowly but surely things are starting to change and I have begun to see the positive effects of reform.
Children need to know they have two parents and an extended family that includes paternal grandparents, aunts, cousins, etc—a group that was traditionally excluded or demonized when Courts automatically determined that children belong with their mother, with their fathers an occasional visitor.
A bill such as HB 1400 will allow Family Court judges and magistrates to put children’s needs in the forefront. I disagree that the bill is “too broad an approach to a challenging issue that demands nuanced, case-by-case decisions based on the best interests of the child.” What has been disturbing is that the best interests of the child under the current system are almost never examined in any detailed or “case-by case” way—traditionally the system has just determined that the mother should be the custodial parent, and have relegated the fathers to the periphery.
When fathers are expected to pay child support, but are not allowed to play a meaningful role in their children’s lives, the Court is setting the children up to become alienated from their fathers. The effects of a bad economy have made this even more true…I often hear older children say things like “I can’t go to camp this year because my mom doesn’t have the money and my dad doesn’t pay enough child support.”
The current system has encouraged the use of false allegations in order for the Courts to exclude one or the other parent. The best interests of the child are to have two parents and their extended families to love and care for them, and when their parents have decided for whatever reason that they can no longer parent under the same roof, they need to understand that the expectation is that they still need to be equal partners in parenting. As more and more states start instituting reform, it will be helpful to have available child-centered counseling services that focus on mediation when disagreements arise so that the parents have a place to raise legitimate concerns when the parents can’t agree on different issues.
As the child’s primary care provider, I often encourage both parents to come to well child visits so that they can take an equally active role in understanding their child’s growth and physical/emotional development. It is not uncommon these days for me to have both parents, a step-parent, and grandparent bring children to appointments—it can be confusing, but it makes me happy to see that the child has so many people around him/her that love them.
Marlene Wust-Smith, M.D., F.A.A.P.