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Shared Parenting ballot initiative wins overwhelmingly across Massachusetts

Nov. 3, 2004, news reports from Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Republican, Berkshire Eagle

Chart of statewide results

Valley voters send legislators message on diverse collection of ballot questions

By John Snyder and Kimberly Ashton, Staff Writers

Daily Hampshire Gazette, Nov. 3, 2004,

Hampshire County voters Tuesday clearly said they want to see limits on the USA Patriot Act and support for joint child custody in divorce cases.

Those were their answers to two of the six nonbinding questions asked on ballots around the county on Election Day.

Voters also called for laws to let the state manufacture, sell and tax marijuana for everyday use, and introduce "instant runoff voting" for state races.

The 3rd Hampshire District (Amherst and Granby) alone voted on questions regarding workplace bullying and the creation of a redistricting commission.

The questions are advisory only, meant to serve as a barometer of public opinion.  Here's what voters said they want. 

Child Custody 

A nonbinding ballot question urging the Legislature to adopt "shared parenting" passed by a landslide both locally and statewide.  Voters in 35 districts backed questions that would instruct their state lawmaker to support legislation requiring that courts mandate joint legal and physical custody in divorce cases unless a parent is deemed unfit.

In Hampshire County, Deerfield, Sunderland, and Whately, 44,972 people voted "yes" and 8,873 people cast a "no" vote.  The question passed in every county municipality.

"It's very encouraging that it would pass so handily," said Mike Franco of Holyoke, co-chairman of the Fatherhood Coalition, which petitioned to get the question on the ballot.

Franco said his group worked hard to fight to change "the perception of men's domestic role in parenting."  He expected the measure to poll well, but it got even better numbers than he expected, he said.

Opponents said that such a law, if the Legislature were to pass it, is unnecessary, would make parental rights more important than the welfare of children and would limit judges' discretion in determining the best custody arrangement.

Franco and other fathers' rights proponents have said that any such law could not be used by unfit parents to maintain joint custody of their children.

. . .(From here story speaks of other policy questions)

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Berkshire Eagle (MA), November 3, 2004

Parenting question gets strong support

By D.R. Bahlman

Berkshire Eagle Staff

Pittsfield - Voters in Berkshire County and in some 30 other state representative districts across Massachusetts appeared last night to have answered "yes" to a nonbinding ballot question concerning child custody in divorce cases.

The referendum asked whether voters want their state representative "to vote for legislation to create a strong presumption in child custody cases in favor of joint physical and legal custody, so that the court will order that children have equal access to both parents as much as possible, except where there is clear and convincing evidence that one parent is unfit, or that joint custody is not possible due to the fault of one of the parents."

Unofficial results from Berkshire County last night showed that some 27,033 votes answered "yes" to the question; 6,753 said "no."

The question appeared on all ballots in the county as the result of efforts of Rinaldo Del Gallo III of Pittsfield, an attorney who is a spokesman for the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition, and other advocates. 

Supporters of a "yes" vote on the question gathered more than 1,000 signatures from registered voters in the county to place the question on ballots.

They have argued that some judges in divorce and child custody cases are inclined to favor the mother when deciding which parent should have legal and physical custody. They contend that state law should guide judicial action more firmly in the direction of joint legal and physical custody and of assuring children's "equal access to both parents as much as possible."

Some proponents of a "no" vote have argued that good, post divorce family relations cannot be legislated. In addition, they contend that joint legal and physical custody can worsen disputes and be used to avoid payment of child support. 

In October, a Superior Court judge rejected Del Gallo's bid to restore the words "shared parenting" to the referendum.

Del Gallo asked Judge John A. Agostini to order the Massachusetts secretary of state and the state attorney general to return his ballot question to its original form. State officials removed the phrase "shared parenting" because officials felt it carried a positive connotation that could unduly sway voters. 

Agostini sided with the state, which had argued "shared parenting" was "unnecessary, equivocal and loaded," and said it was within its rights to strike the words from the ballot. 

Del Gallo had argued that the state's action robbed the debate of a catch-phrase that would facilitate public discussion.

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D.R. Bahlman can be reached at dbahlman@berkshireeagle.com or at (413) 496-6243.



The Republican, November 3, 2004

Town-by-town election briefs

[Excerpt: ]

Ware - "It's my understanding Ware is a very Democratic town," said Town Clerk Nancy Talbot, as Kerry bested Bush 2,589 to 1,657. 

Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 3-1 in some wards here. 

Turnout was healthy, with 4,302 people or 65 percent of registered voters hitting the polls.

Voters supported a nonbinding question on custodial parenting 2,246 to 284.

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The Republican, November 3, 2004 

Key local issues also draw votes

By Azell Murphy Cavaan <acavaan@repub.com>


Voters throughout the region also decided on nonbinding referendums yesterday. Nonbinding referendums, also referred to as advisory questions, help educate voters on particular issues, and if approved, provide a mandate for lawmakers to introduce bills. 

Voters in nearly 40 districts, including Agawam, Dalton, Lee and Northampton and a senate district based in Westfield embraced a nonbinding ballot question to create a presumption of shared legal custody of children by both the mother and the father in divorce and custody cases.

Stephen M. Carrier, chairman of Children's Rights Council of Massachusetts, said the positive response to the ballot question will urge legislators to reform our "outdated, harmful child custody laws."

The ballot question passed by a margin of about eight to one.

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