Dads protest custody laws


By John J. Monahan, Telegram & Gazette Staff

Wednesday, October 25, 2000

WORCESTER-- A group of men claiming that state courts and custody laws discriminate against fathers, thereby harming children, protested in front of the Worcester Courthouse yesterday.

Supporters of the group Dads Against Divorce Discrimination, based in Westboro, said the demonstration was called to coincide with a national effort to draw attention to the rights of fathers in seven states yesterday. They said the phenomenon of “dead-bolted dads” who are barred from seeing their children by the courts, or are provided with extremely limited parenting rights is rampant, and is harming families and children.

“Unfortunately, Massachusetts is one of the worst states in the union to live in for children whose families experience a breakup, and this has to change,” said Walter S. Skold of Westboro, who shares custody of his five children. One man at the demonstration held a sign that read, “Kids need Dads.” Another read, “Fathers are parents, too.”

At the root of the problem, said Mr. Skold, are divorce court decisions that give sole custody or physical custody to the mother. Fathers often get to see their children for only four to 10 hours a month or every other weekend under those orders, he said.

Mr. Skold said that in most of those instances, fathers are asking for greater custody rights and the courts deny them. “There is still a lot of bias in the community that mom's make betterparents,” he said. “Kids are the ones who suffer a loss when they onlyhave one parent.”

He said that Massachusetts is one of only half-dozen states in which custody laws do not require a custody agreement. He said that what state law lacks is language that provides a “presumption of shared parenting.”

He argued that divorce and custody laws give too much discretion to judges. “Children's hearts are breaking. They are being denied their rights to have two parents,” he said.

The group said the state Legislature isconsidering several changes in custody laws.

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