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Fatherhood group presses for law change

By MARY CAREY, Staff Writer, Hampshire Gazette, March 11, 2002

Monday, March 11, 2002 -- AMHERST - About 50 fathers and their supporters, who claim that courts unfairly favor women when granting child custody during divorces, made their case for "shared parenting" and reforming the state's divorce laws to state Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg on Saturday.

The Amherst Democrat told members of the statewide Fatherhood Coalition that he is "definitely open to the concepts," they are promoting, including strengthening legal language establishing that men and women have an equal right to the company of their children.

Members of the coalition will now need to enlist broader support by "getting into dialogue with people with whom it might be difficult to get into a dialogue with," if they want to move their proposed legislation forward, Rosenberg said during the meeting at the Jones Library.

The House Judiciary Committee will hear a bill promoted by the coalition on March 29 at the Statehouse.

"There seem to be some interesting concepts at play here that should get a fair review," Rosenberg said. "You've got a lot of people's attention on the concept, what you have to do is move to a discussion of the details. Compelling personal stories are not enough."

The group wants to see the state's divorce laws reflect the presumption that both parents are equally fit to care for their children unless proven otherwise. Because it would assume parents will spend equal time with their children, neither one would have to pay the other child support.

"That's the beauty of shared parenting. Equal time. No child support. No litigation. It's bad for trial lawyers, but it's good for the parents and child," said Pittsfield lawyer Rinaldo Del Gallo, who heads the Berkshire County chapter of the Fatherhood Coalition and presented the group's case to Rosenberg.

Some other states have laws which are far more conducive to shared parenting, Del Gallo said.

During the sometimes heated meeting, about a dozen fathers from around the state told personal stories of having been falsely accused of being unfit to care for their children and having been unfairly treated by judges.

Daniel Grubbs, of Shutesbury, who heads the Franklin County chapter of the Fatherhood Coalition, said he was the primary caretaker of his children when he was married but his wife was granted primary custody in the divorce. "I stayed home and changed their diapers. But when I get into court, I found out I wasn't a homemaker, I was unemployed," Grubbs said.

The meeting broke into shouting when a woman who works with victims of domestic violence accused members of the Fatherhood Coalition with harassing women who had taken out restraining orders against men.

George Schroeder, of Northampton, head of the Hampshire County chapter, said the 100-150 members of his group were not involved in such activities.

Del Gallo said domestic violence wasn't an issue on the table for discussion at the meeting.

In an interview after the meeting, Rob Okun, of Amherst, the associate director of the Men's Resource Center, a Pioneer Valley organization which he describes as having "the twin aims of supporting men and challenging violence," said that domestic violence must be considered part of the broader discussion of divorce.

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