Men Rally for Shared Parenting

By Chris Echegaray, Telegram & Gazette Staff, Wednesday, June 6, 2001

WORCESTER-- With the state Legislature considering a bill to give noncustodial parents equal footing in parenting, 10 men rallied yesterday in support of the measure, and to fight what they say is discrimination in Probate Court against fathers.

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Coalition for Shared Parenting held similar rallies in Springfield, Boston and Lawrence to call attention to a bill that seeks to strengthen relationships between children and divorced parents. Mothers are usually granted custody of the children, they said.

"The courts have not caught up with society," said John Potter, a Barre father of three young adults, at the rally outside the Worcester County Courthouse. "Parents should have the same rights and responsibilities to their children in post-divorce."

The men were carrying signs that read "Fathers Are Not Paychecks." Many said that the state's court system is inequitable to men.

They began their march yesterday before 8 a.m. on the Belmont Street overpass of Interstate 290, hanging a banner that read "Equal Rights For Fathers and Children." Shortly after, they walked down to the courthouse.

Walter S. Skold, spokesman for the coalition and father of five children, said the parenting group is under the umbrella of The Fatherhood Coalition and Dads Against Divorce Discrimination. Mr. Skold, of Upton, said that the bill is not solely about men's rights, but parents' rights in general

"We are not anti-women," he said. "We are pro-children."

State Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, and five state representatives are sponsoring the bill. Mr. Brewer said that a month ago the Judiciary Committee heard volumes of testimony in favor of the bill.

"I do believe that a balance has to exist," he said. "More than 52 percent of marriages end up in divorces. But the pendulum may have to swing a little bit to make it a level playing field for fathers who legitimately have their children's best interest in mind."

The proposal would require a parenting plan that allows shared physical custody approved by a judge, and shared legal custody. If custody is challenged, parents would be allowed temporary legal and physical custody unless the court finds that giving legal and physical custody to one parent is in the child's best interest.

Yesterday, there was a common thread among the men's stories: their divorces were not amicable, with restraining orders involved and a lack of access to their children on a regular basis.

Larry Calihan of Westboro said he aligned himself with the fatherhood organization in 1998 after a battle with his wife in court.

"I joined when I found out how easy it was for my then wife to use the courts to separate me from my children," he said.

The men handed out fliers on the steps of the courthouse before they were asked to hold their rally on the sidewalk on Main Street.

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