The
Fatherhood
Coalition
For Immediate Release

State Senator Nuciforo to Speak on Shared Parenting

January 24, 2002 Release No. 01/02-142

Pittsfield, MA -- The Berkshire Chapter of The Fatherhood Coalition with host State Senator Andrea Nuciforo, Saturday, Feb. 2 at 2:00 p.m. in a presentation on shared parenting as an alternative to sole custody for divorced and unwed separated parents.

The event will be located at the Berkshire Medical Center, Dining Suite A, and is free and open to the public. There will be an opportunity to ask Senator Nuciforo questions. If you have any questions, please contact Rinaldo Del Gallo at 1-413-443-3150 or by e-mail at R_Del_Gallo@hotmail.com.

DIRECTIONS TO THE BERKSHIRE MEDICAL CENTER FROM ROUTE 90: The Berkshire Medical Center is located between North Street and Wachonah Street in toward the north end of Pittsfield. From Route 90 (the Mass Turnpike), take Exit 2, Lee, to Rt. 20 heading north, which eventually merges with Rt. 7 and become Rt. 20/7. Stay on this route into Pittsfield’s Park Square (rotary in downtown) at the junction of East, West, South and North Streets. Go around the rotary and head North on to North Street for about five lights. The Berkshire Medical Center is straight ahead on the left-hand side.

The Fatherhood Coalition, a non-profit all volunteer organization founded in 1994, is comprised of men and women dedicated to fostering the father/child relationship. The group supports "shared parenting" through mediation and conflict resolution, and seeks to promote fairness in the adjudication of family law. For more information you may contact us through the Fathers' Rights Hotline at 1-413-295-DADS or via our website at www.fatherhoodcoalition.org.

To contact Rinaldo Del Gallo, call 413-443-3150 or e-mail him at R_Del_Gallo@hotmail.com

To learn more about the Fatherhood Coalition go http://www.fatherhoodcoalition.org

To learn more about Senator Nuciforo, please go to:

http://www.state.ma.us/legis/member/afn0.htm

Background

Here is a very brief history of child custody law in Massachusetts and the United States. From approximately the 1880’s back to the beginning of the memory of the English common law, men were always awarded custody of the children unless it was shown they would endanger their children. In the 1880’s, the so-called "best interest of the child," standard was adopted, and with it the "tender years doctrine." The tender years doctrine was a strong presumption that children are better off with their mothers. After this change in the law, women were always awarded custody of the children. While the tender years doctrine is now de jure unconstitutional because it stereotypes women as nurturers and men as bread winners, as a practical matter, it lives on in silence and is still the de facto law: The words "custodial parent" simply replace "mother" in court language, and the same old stereotypes live on, this time in code words rather than with overt sanction as under the tender years doctrine. Massachusetts has never known a time of gender equality or shared parenting. The Massachusetts Family and Probate court apply a 1950’s view of the role of men and women in the family to twenty-first century cases. While women are in the work force as much as men, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court clings to outdated stereotypes of men as inferior parents to women. The Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition believes it is now the time dispel the gender bias in family law.

Under our current sole custody regime in Massachusetts, unless the mother is extremely unfit, the mother gets sole custody of the children whereas the father gets visitation every other weekend. Mothers get sole custody of their children in about 90% of all cases. Shared parenting, often called "joint custody" at times and "alternating custody" by its opponents, involves both parents having equal time with the child where it is practicable. The Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition believes that is shared parenting is not practicable, custody should go the parent who did the least to make it impracticable.

The advantages of shared parenting our as follows:

1.SHARED PARENTING BEST APPROXIMATES AN INTACT FAMILY: The best-adjusted children are ones that come from intact families. Shared parenting best approximates an intact family.

2.SHARED PARENING MAKES THE FATHER PRESENT IN CHILD’S LIFE. Shared parenting allows the father to be present in the child’s life so that he may provide meaningful moral, emotional, and spiritual support. In the current system, the father is simply relegated to an avuncular, distant relative status. The correlation between fatherlessness and academic failure, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, teen suicide, low self-esteem, and criminal conduct has been demonstrated over and over again. Children need their fathers.

3.SHARED PARENTING REDUCES LITIGATION. Shared parenting is a tolerable solution to child custody dilemma and most parents will not litigate if they know that shared parenting will be the usual outcome. Even though most men know that they are likely to lose in Probate and Family Court, they will spend their life savings and waste years of their life attempting to not lose their own children. Shared Parenting ends this “death sentence” mentality that litigation must continue no matter how likely the loss because the consequence of losing their children is unbearable. Less litigation would be good for the taxpayer who must pay for the court system, both parents who go broke during litigation, and the children who suffer when the parents are depleted of their financial resources.

4.SHARED PARENING PROMOTES RECONCILIATION. Knowing that courts disfavor shared parenting, in an effort to win sole-custody, both parents ending up slinging mud at the other to show how the other is a terrible, unfit parent. This ultimately ends to more embitterment at a time when the child so desperately needs reconciliation.

5.SHARED PARENING WILL LOWER THE DIVORCE RATE. As amply demonstrated in “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce” by Judith S.  Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee, divorce really does hurt children. Unless there is grotesque pathology in the family, children are better off in bad marriages than in so-called “good divorces.” There really is no such thing as a “good divorce.” There is only a difference between bad and worse. Much of the modern pop-psychology with pseudo-science suggesting that divorce is not bad for children have poor scientific foundations, and serve only to make the parents feel less guilty about obtaining a divorce. Told that divorce is not bad for children, they do not have to feel guilty about leaving the marriage for their own selfish purposes. Indeed, they can even kid themselves into believing they are trying to help thee child. The real raw data does not support this conclusion. The correlation between divorce and fatherlessness to criminal conduct, violence, academic failure, low self-esteem, teen suicide, and teen pregnancy has been shown repeatedly. Most of the studies that purport to show that divorce is not bad on children are with pop-psychologist, bent on a certain answer, asking children if they feel good about themselves. More probing inquires, as shown in “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,” show that children do not adjust well after divorce, and that even if they do not become pregnant or feel suicidal or commit crime, they have a hard time trusting others and entering into long-term relationships. There is a constant fear of abandonment.

The sad reality is that approximately one-half of all marriage end in divorce. The wife enters two-thirds to three-fourths of all petitions for divorce. One of the primary reasons that there is such a high divorce rate is that the women have so little to lose in the case of divorce.  They get the children and a large weekly check. Coupled with an “I’m the victim” and an “I’m not going to take it anymore” attitude and the modern lack of taboo associated with divorce, the results have been a skyrocketing divorce rate. With shared parenting, since both parents have the child approximately 50% of the time, there is no need for child support. Moreover, the mother does face losing appreciable times with the child. In the end, less women will file for divorce because there will be something to really lose by doing so.  The courts cannot change societies attitudes about divorce. But they can do something about creating legal incentives that ultimately promote it. If women know that they will have everything to gain and nothing to lose by filing for divorce, their willingness to an enter a divorce is greatly increased.

6.PRERVATION OF THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO REAR ONE’S CHILD. Time and time again, the United States Supreme Court has announced how fundamental and supreme is the right to parent and rear one’s children.

In the 1923 case of Meyers v. Nebraska, the Supreme Court struck down a law that forbid children from learning certain foreign languages not because learning these foreign languages was in “the child’s best interest,” but because the right to parent one’s child was fundamental.

In the 1925 case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the Supreme Court struck down a law demanding that children attend public schools, not because going to a private parochial school was in “the child’s best interest,” but because the right to parent one’s child was fundamental. The decision rested on the “liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their children.”

In the 1942 case of Skinner v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court struck down an Oklahoma statute that which provided for compulsory sterilization of persons convicted three times of felonies not because of “the child’s best interest,” but because “marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race.”

In the 1977 case of Moore v. East Cleveland, the Supreme Court struck down a state law that impaired the ability of extended family members to reside together (such as an aunt and nephew) not because residing together was in the best interest of the child, but because the right to family life was fundamental.

In the 1978 case of Quillon v Walcott, the Supreme Court ruled, “If a state were to attempt to force the breakup of a natural family, over the objection of the parents and their children, without some showing of unfitness and for the sole reason that to do so was thought to be in the children’s best interest,” the Due Process Clause would clearly be violated.

All of these cases involve the right of the parents versus third parties. Just last year, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Troxel v. Granville that grandparent visitation cannot be imposed without a showing of great prejudice to the child, and that the “best interest of the child” standard did not do enough to safeguard the fundamental parenting right. Still, as between the mother and the father, the so-called “best interest of the child” standard, more aptly called the “what the judge thinks is best standard,” lives on. The father need not be show to be unfit, or the child need not be shown to be substantially or meaningfully prejudiced by the father’s presence, before his fundamental rights as a parent are abrogated.

While enormous safeguards are erected to protect the rights of parents to the society and upbringing of their children vis--vis the rest of the world, as between the mother and father, the father’s fundamental right may be defeated by the caprices of judges. The flimsy “best interest of the child” test give judges a license to kill the parent/child relationship without a showing of meaningful harm to the child or unfitness of a parent. The Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition believes that the right to parent one’s child is a fundamental right, and when confronted with a contest between the mother and father, the law should favor maintaining that right for both parties as much as possible. One parent should not be the victor and the other the vanquished. Indeed, the right to be a parent to one’s child is more treasured than the right to religious freedom or freedom of speech.

Conclusion

There should legislation enacting a strong presumption for shared parenting. This presumption should only be overcome when it is show that a parent is unfit, or when the court is confronted by exceptional and compelling circumstances of the most serious nature indicating that shared parenting will not work. When both parents are fit, when the court is confronted by exceptional and compelling circumstances of the most serious nature indicating that shared parenting will not work, custody should go to the parent who is least to blame for not making it workable.

The Equal Parenting And Child Protection Act

S813 bill text

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CPF / The Fatherhood Coalition
617-723-DADS

A non-profit, all volunteer organization of men and women advocating for fatherhood since 1994


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