NATIONAL PARENTS ORGANIZATION
July 15, 2015
MASSACHUSETTS PROPOSES HISTORIC REVISION OF CHILD CUSTODY LAW
FIRST LEGISLATIVE HEARING SET FOR JULY 22
BOSTON — About 50 bipartisan Massachusetts legislators are backing an overhaul of the state’s outdated child custody law that supports a more modern understanding of the best interests of children when parents divorce.
The Massachusetts Child-Centered Family Law, SB.834 and HB.1207, was born out of recommendations from the 18 distinguished stakeholders former Gov. Patrick appointed to the Massachusetts Working Group on Child-Centered Family Law. A key provision of the proposal encourages shared parenting after divorce. In light of The Wall Street Journal story “Big Shift Pushed in Custody Disputes” revealing that nearly 20 other states are considering shared parenting legislation, Massachusetts could lead the nation on this national trend by passing the reform. The proposal will be debated on July 22 when the Joint Committee on the Judiciary holds a hearing on SB 834.
Attorney Denise Squillante, a former President of the Massachusetts Bar Association, sat on the Massachusetts Working Group on Child-Centered Family Law and concluded, “This proposed legislation provides a workable and understandable framework for litigants to understand important considerations that the court will utilize when the needs of a child, which are paramount, are being considered in developing the parenting plan and parental responsibilities.”
Proposal highlights include:
Supports shared parenting by encouraging family courts to award at least one-third of the parenting time to each parent after divorce.
Honors the best interest of the child. The shared parenting provision would improve on the family court tradition of awarding sole custody to just one parent, which deprives the child of the love and guidance of the other parent. The move is in line with a large amount of recent research on what is best for children. For example, just last month, the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health published a 150,000-person study that concluded shared parenting after divorce or separation is in the best interest of children by lowering their stress levels..
Honors judicial discretion in child custody cases.
Upholds laws that protect families from domestic violence.
Favors parents who seek to cooperate with the other parent as well as parents who support the child’s relationship with the other parent.
Extends additional powers to family courts to punish parents who ignore its parenting time orders.
Replaces harsh language with family terms. For example, “custody” is replaced with “parental responsibility.”
Represents consensus among a broad group. The Massachusetts Working Group on Child-Centered Family Law included representation from the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Association, Academy of Matrimony Lawyers, The Women’s Bar Association, The Probate and Family Court, The Commonwealth’s Child Advocate, The House and Senate Co-Chairs of the Judiciary Committee, Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, leading child development researchers and the National Parents Organization.
Represents widespread legislative support. The Senate bill, sponsored by Senator Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, has gained 43 co-sponsors, and the House bill, sponsored by Representative Paul Brodeur, D-Melrose, is supported by 9 co-sponsors.
Dr. Ned Holstein, who was appointed by former Governor Patrick to the Working Group and who is Founder and Board Chair of Boston-based National Parents Organization, praised the proposal.
“After spending more than 15 years listening to families tell heartbreaking stories as a result of our antiquated child custody law, I am grateful that the Massachusetts legislature is taking a serious look at reform that could lead to happier family outcomes,” Dr. Holstein said.
Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.
A regular contributor to local and national media, Dr. Holstein is Founder and Chair of the Board of National Parents Organization. Dr. Holstein was appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts to the Massachusetts Working Group on Child-Centered Family Law, and he was previously appointed by a Massachusetts Chief Justice to a task force charged with reviewing and revising the state’s child support guidelines.
A graduate of Harvard College, Holstein also earned a Master’s degree in psychology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His medical degree is from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he later served on the faculty as a teacher and researcher.
SINGLE PARENTING VERSUS SHARED PARENTING
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Census Bureau and numerous researchers have reported alarming outcomes for the 35% of children who are raised by single parents. Yet, until now, this factor has been largely ignored in the conversation about child wellbeing.
Children raised by single parents account for:
- 63% of teen suicides;
- 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions;
- 71% of high school drop-outs;
- 75% of children in chemical abuse centers;
- 85% of those in prison;
- 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders; and
- 90% of homeless and runaway children.
Whether the problem is emotional disturbances of children, drug use, alcohol use, teen pregnancy, poor performance in school, trouble with the law or running with gangs, being raised by a single parent is a powerful risk factor. For many of these outcomes, single parenting is a stronger risk factor than race or poverty. Conversely, children on average do much better on all these measures if they have shared parenting. Children ardently desire shared parenting in most cases and are happier with it.
For parents, shared parenting significantly increases child support compliance, diminishes parental conflict and domestic violence and allows both parents to pursue their careers, social lives and other interests without the burden of singlehandedly raising a child.
ABOUT NATIONAL PARENTS ORGANIZATION
National Parents Organization, a charitable and educational 501 (c)(3) organization, seeks better lives for children through family law reform that establishes equal rights and responsibilities for fathers and mothers after divorce or separation. The Boston-based organization is focused on promoting shared parenting and preserving a child’s strong bond with both parents, which is critically important to their emotional, mental, and physical health. In 2014, National Parents Organization released the Shared Parenting Report Card, the first study to rank the states on child custody laws. Visit the National Parents Organization website at www.nationalparentsorganization.org