Fathers’ Group Protests in Dedham

By Shawn Michael Smith, (Dedham) Daily Transcript NEWS STAFF WRITER, June 06, 2001

DEDHAM — Divorced fathers demonstrated yesterday against what they say is discrimination in the courts, but an aide to state Sen. Cheryl Jacques, a leading proponent of domestic violence laws, was unmoved by their actions.

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Staff photo by John Thornton

Milford resident Earl Henry Sholley and other members of The Fatherhood Coalition protest in front of the Norfolk County Probate Court in Dedham yesterday. They claim state law discriminates against fathers involved in custody battles.

About 10 members of the Milford-based Fatherhood Coalition picketed outside the Probate Court yesterday with placards reading, " Stop judicial abuse, " and " We love our children. "

Spokesman Earl Sholley said the divorced fathers are trying to halt court tendencies to assess unreasonable child-support payments and grant restraining orders on the basis of fear rather than fact.

The men coordinated the Dedham picket with Fatherhood Coalition protests at 11 other state courts and with a national Bridges for Children protest by the American Coalition for Fathers and Children (ACFC).

The ACFC protest coordinated demonstrations in 193 cities and towns in the United States and eight other countries. ACFC demonstrators put up a banner across Rte. 95 yesterday.

Both local and national protesters emphasized children’s need for two parents, and they excoriated court practices of keeping fathers away from wives and children. Sholley said the Norfolk County Probate Court is the worst court in the state and Massachusetts is the worst state in the country for divorcing fathers.

" The ‘ex parte’ restraining order gives fathers no right to face their accusers and no evidentiary hearings, " Sholley said. " A woman can just go in and say she’s afraid and get a restraining order. She could be an alcoholic or a cocaine addict and still get custody. We have men out here today who haven’t seen their kids in years. "

Sholley said statistics show that most domestic violence is committed by men against women, but argued that is only because women are nine times more likely to report violence. He said one of his friends still has scars on his shins from his wife’s kicks.

Sholley criticized the Jacques-Cohen law that allows a judge to use " a preponderance of the evidence " as the standard for determining domestic violence. Sholley said the standard should be " beyond a reasonable doubt. "

But Jacques’ chief of staff Angus McQuilken said the Jacques-Cohen law has been on the books for four years and is not likely to change.

"There are two types of restraining orders, " McQuilken said. " The temporary restraining order, which is issued after someone signs an affidavit saying she has been harmed or is in fear of being harmed.

That’s good for 10 days. We want the victim to get out of the situation and get protection.

"The second is the permanent restraining order, which lasts up to a year. This is issued only after a full hearing of both sides before a judge, " McQuilken said.

"Domestic abuse kills dozens of people every year, and there is no appetite in our Legislature for weakening our domestic violence laws. On the contrary, there is an appetite for strengthening them. And (the Fatherhood Coalition’s) cries will fall on deaf ears, " McQuilken said.

Sholley, an Attleboro landscaper, challenged Jacques, D-Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex, for her legislative seat last fall.

Sholley interpreted his earning 30 percent of the vote against Jacques as a sign that his anti-discrimination message rings true with voters. He also said his arrest years ago for slapping his teenage daughter became a campaign issue.

He said the seven arrests on his record all stemmed from violations of the resulting restraining orders and from challenging the court system.


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