Testimony of Earl Sholley in support of Shared Parenting Bill - S813

As delivered to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, March 29, 2001

Boston, Massachusetts -- I am here to encourage the members of this committee to work together to recommend some form of shared parenting legislation in this session. There are three bills before you today S813, H2546, and H1605. I have also enclosed a copy of H6040 from 1996, along with a new rendition, for your perusal. It already has a successful track record. Some of that bill's excellent language could be incorporated, or it could be a late file proposal should anyone be interested. Bill H6040 passed the House, was engrossed; and sent to the Senate. It died in third reading, and it seemed to be merely a matter of the 90-day rule. The main sponsor was Rep. Marie Parente, currently Chairman of Local Affairs and the Women’s Caucus.

Shared parenting or shared custody legislation would establish a mandatory minimum amount of time for children to live with each parent. Ideally, all people of good will would want true shared parenting, and equal rights and responsibilities for each parent. This should be the norm except in the case of unfitness or where the court finds that there would be substantial physical injury to the child using the same US Supreme Court standard "clear and convincing evidence" (Santosky vs. Kramer, 1982). Interestingly, the SJC in its advisory on the Jacques-Cohen Legislation stated that its lower standard of "by a preponderance of the evidence" might not comport to existing federal opinion. However, the Court liked it, and the General Court passed it anyway.

Why is it that fathers are treated like second-class citizens in our Massachusetts Courts? If that were not the case, you would not see the throng before you. I do not understand. Something is grossly wrong. In fact, it is well documented that a child is safest with its biological parents compared to other arrangements. In addition, all credible research indicates that mothers abuse children at twice the rate of fathers. Most of them are single parent moms. This is a fact. In his new book, Father and Child Reunion, Dr. Warren Farrell, best selling author of The Myth of Male Power and Why Men Are the Way They Are, says that the best situation for children is an intact family, then shared parenting, then a single parent dad, and finally a single parent mom. He backs it up with 13 years of excellent research. Dr. Farrell's previous books were published by Simon and Schuster. Not this time. He had a hard time finding a publisher. It is not politically correct information. Yet, he is the only man to have been elected to the board of NOW three times in New York City. Although the aforementioned might be controversial to some, please remember that if there is a divorce, the best situation is shared parenting, where the focus is on the true best interests of the children rather than the current belief in Massachusetts that the mother is the superior parent. Children need both parents. That is best for everyone and ensures a more violent-free society.

There are many states which currently have shared parenting laws such as Washington, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, Vermont, and California. West Virginia was recently featured on Dan Rather's Eye on America. Shared parenting has reduced conflict (the very best thing for children and parents), and it has actually reduced the divorce rate. This is consistent in all other states where parents are treated as equals. My prediction is that not only will our children suffer less, but you will see a huge reduction in abuse protection orders in divorce cases. You will also probably see a good reduction in Ritalin prescriptions to our sons. I am of the opinion that one of the worst forms of child abuse is to put a wedge between the love that children feel for their mother and father. We should do everything that we can to ensure that children have the equal opportunity to be meaningfully nurtured by both of their parents.

Shared parenting legislation would relieve the court of much of its current impossible workload. It would actually make their job easier by de-politicizing the divorce process. All parties would be treated as equals. It would also place the burden on the parents to focus on their children. But if parents cannot settle on a parenting plan, then any law should establish equal legal decision-making rights for parents, and implement a baseline of shared physical custody.

The Family Court is in crisis. Fathers are being discriminated against every day in our courts. This gender profiling and heartbreak must stop. If the courts were truly interested in the welfare of our children, then they would do everything in their power to reduce conflict in our children’s lives. They would insist on equality, attempt reconciliation where possible, mandate a strong mediation process, and promote a reduction of the financial and emotional burdens created by divorce.

I ask you to report favorably on all these bills. The time is long overdue for a shared parenting bill. We must do it "For the Kids' Sake."

Earl Henry Sholley, Chairman
The Committee for Shared Parenting
Thursday, March 29, 2001

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