Vital protection

[Fitchburg/Leominster] Sentinel & Enterprise

Sunday, June 13, 1999

Fathers, dispossessed of parental rights in the wake of divorce or separation disputes, are increasingly speaking up for their rights. While their greatest concern bears listening to (they argue that restraining orders are being given out like candy to angry wives and mothers), a recent maneuver is not worthy of the public's support.

Everyone suffers in a divorce, Children would benefit by not being made the focus of their parents' disagreements.

In some cases, however, children do not belong with one parent or the other. That parent may be violent, may be a substance abuser or a sexual predator. That parent may be neglectful or otherwise irresponsible. There are indeed many reasons why one parent (or both) may be unfit and undeserving of custody.

When these reasons do not exist, however, a parent deserves to enjoy his or her children's company and to help care for them.

Instead, embattled fathers contend, the courts are freely and blindly issuing restraining orders and not responsibly administering them. Temporary restraining orders may become permanent, in effect. These fathers may be right, and the Fatherhood Coalition and similar organizations are correct to battle for a thorough investigation of restraining order practices.

They are wrong, however, to seek confidential information about restraining orders (and the women who obtain them) for a so-called study they propose, both to analyze such restraining orders and to interview those who have taken them out.

Massachusetts' restraining law, two decades old, exists mainly to protect women who might otherwise be harmed by a spouse or boyfriend (it can protect men equally, should they require it).

However, for the coalition to seek these confidential records, meant to protect abused persons, is completely suspect. At best, it would intimidate women further as they are seeking a new life apart from an abusive partner. AT worst, it could subject them to new dangers.

Any such study, if it proves worth completing, could be done through the courts or their designated agencies.

Presently, the Attorney General has filed a bill prohibiting the public's access to addresses of those seeking protection under chapter 209A, the debated statute. Good. We believe it is critical that such protections remain in place for good.

For every person accused of playing frivolously with the restraining order game there is another who remains in very real danger without these protections. The law cannot always tell one situation from another; that is why laws are blind to individual circumstances.

Yes, work with those who want to see their children and appear to be unfairly victimized by the restraining law process. Let good fathers spend time with their children. But do not do it at the expense of endangering lives.

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