While supporting the goal of giving fathers a large presence in their children’s lives, the Boston Globe took exception Massachusetts House Bill 1400, which promotes the concept of “shared parenting.’’ The Glove argued that the bill, pending in the MA Joint Committee on the Judiciary, is “too broad an approach to a challenging issue that demands nuanced, case-by-case decisions based on the best interests of the child,” and rejected the bill as a solution to the argument that fathers aren’t getting fair court hearings.
Like other shared parenting legislation pending in other states, the MA proposed legislation would create a legal presumption for joint custody unless there is evidence of child abuse or neglect. The MA legislation would not eliminate a judge’s right to award sole custody to one parent, however it would require judges to give written justification to support decisions rejecting an automatic grant of joint custody.
The Globe’s criticism of the proposed legislation was focused and pointed out some specific deficits that cannot be cured by a presumption:
“The ‘shared parenting’ bill would only affect a small portion of broken families: those in which parents are unable to reach a settlement on their own. Those cases, marked by acrimony and poor communication, seem the ones that would benefit most from a judge’s insight — not to mention a judge’s ability to tailor arrangements to children’s age, location, and particular needs. Even in the best of circumstances, equality is hard to define within the context of school days, weekends, and summers. And if parents can’t set aside their conflicts to determine the long-term best interest of their children, an “equal’’ custody arrangement, in which the children are frequently shuttled between enemy camps, could expose them to even more rancor.”
The Globe recommended instead attempts to excise hurtful or inflammatory language from custody litigation and cited Senate Bill 1662 as a step in the right direction. That bill would eliminate some of the incendiary language now used in domestic relations cases. Certain language, already in many states, including Michigan, would be changed. For example, the MA term of “visitation’’ would be changed to “parenting time. ’’
Good idea. Parents exercise “parenting time” with their children, they don’t “visit” them. The term “custody,’’ which connotes ownership, would be replaced with the term “residential responsibility.’’
You may read the Boston Globe editorial “Child-custody cases demand discretion, not new laws” here.
An earlier article on this blog "Rethinking Children as Property” may be read here.
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