Starting two weeks ago, a number of father’s rights activists, led by Bob Norton, began distributing fliers in Newton critical of Sen. Cynthia Creem for blocking two family court reform bills this year - Shared Parenting (H1400) and Alimony Reform (H1785).
Emotions are running high among people who have advocated for these bills all year. Many of these activists were calling the legislature on an almost daily basis asking for progress on these bills.
They’ve Been Asking for Help all Year
When there was a public hearing on these bills back in September, many hundreds of them showed up at the State House to testify. The hearing room was packed to over-flowing. It was so hot and packed that at least one person was taken out on a stretcher.
Hundreds of people took time off work to tell our legistors, first hand, heartbreaking stories of families ripped apart, beloved children they don’t see and people with crushing financial obligations they could not meet. They testified until late into the evening when most legislators had already gone home.
I was there.
The legislators were patient, but they appeared unmoved. I haven’t heard a single public statement from anyone on judiciary sympathizing with the plight of these families.
Only a few people turned out to testify against these bills – all of them paid lobbyists for the various lawyer’s lobbies. The lobbyists testified against these two important reforms and in favor of two toothless legal industry sponsored counter bills.
Countering the shared parenting bill was a bill that would leave the current laws governing child custody as they are, but change only the language of the law, replacing the terms “custody” and “visitation” with the terms “rights” and “responsibilities.” Against the the Alimony Reform bill was a bill written byÂ one of the Bar Associations and sponsored by Sen. Creem, that would have added only two words to the current alimony law – “and duration.” (Seriously.. read it)
These legal industry sponsored bills are an insult the the thousands of families facing serious problems caused by our outdated probate laws. The Creem alimony reform law would have done nothing to help families who have been placed in dire financial predicaments by the current law. It is galling to these families when she says that she sponsored an alimony reform bill.
The only purpose of the Creem alimony bill was an attempt to derail the real alimony bill – H1785.
The “rights and responsibilities” bill would have done nothing at all. Both of these bills would have left the current law in a state where divorce lawyers could continue to abuse the public.
The Legislature Has Done Almost Nothing
Activists for family court reform understand the need to take a careful and reasoned approach to solving these difficult problems. We agree with Senator Creem, and others, that changes like these would affect thousands of families and must be done carefully.
But in the time that we have petitioned our legislators precious little was done. Despite constant pleading no task force to study shared parenting was convened. Governor Patrick, when pressed in public, twice promised to convene a task force and both times did nothing. After sustained public pressure and several hard hitting articles in the Globe, the judiciary committee did finally convene a task force to study alimony reform. But in the 8 months since they started, they met only three times and did not finish their work before the end of the legislative year. All while we saw huge amounts of time wasted on such boondoggles as the failed casino bill.
Our issues were not the only ones that the legislature didn’t have time to deal with. Many important bills were left unaddressed this year as the legislature spent its time on bills that were backed by well funded lobbies and special interests. Many people with difficult problems will, like us, have to wait until next year.
The Alimony Bill was co-sponsored by more than half of the legislature. Shared Parenting is supported by 80% of the electorate – and a small number of legislators were able to block any action on these bills. But two stand out, Senator Creem and Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty. They are the chairs of the Judiciary Committee and either of them could have decided to take these issues seriously, convene a task force to study the issues and make fair and balanced recommendations, and make a serious effort to solve these problems.
But they didn’t. They chose to just ignore these issues for yet another year.
Ignoring Voters Has Consequences
I want to give Senator Creem some credit. She did meet many times with key activists behind these issues, like Steve Hitner and Ned Holstein. Many legislators refused to engage with us at all.
Her office was always the most helpful and informative. It is probably the most well run legislative office I have dealt with. They were patient in answering my questions, and in getting back to me. I am especially grateful for the efforts of her staff, Richard Powell and Mike Avitser.
To some extent Sen. Creem is being unfairly targeted. She was not the only one blocking progress. Rep. O’Flaherty is equally to blame. Lucky for him, his election is uncontested this year.
There is no denying that Sen. Creem has not taken these issues seriously, and seemed to hope that they would simply go away on their own.
She should know better. Â As an active divorce lawyer, she works in the probate courts. In the decades that she has worked as a divorce lawyer, does she feel any sympathy for the thousands of children she has personally seen separated from loving fathers?
For 12 years as a legislator, she has chosen to do as little as she can get away with. The little progress that has been made is always due to sustained public pressure – through our calling, writing, meeting and testifying.
Throughout the year anger among affected families has been building. I knew as the legislative year was coming to an end that, if there was not demonstrable progress, people were going to take action. And that is what we are seeing today.
We’re Working On Elections
This is a deeply personal issue. My own family, and my own beloved children, have been affected by the very imperfect process we have under our current system.
I know that Bob Norton and a sizable number of energized activists are distributing these fliers around Newton. There is a lot of hyperbole in them. It is an emotional appeal by families who feel like their critical family issues – issues that affect their children – are not being taken seriously.
I think Bob’s fliers are extreme. I’ve argued with him many times to moderate the message. But he, and many of the people working with him, feel that they are only going to be heard if they speak up with the strongest language possible.
Bob’s group has been distributing these fliers in Newton.
I know they have a plan to distribute nearly 30,000 more of them in the next issue of the Tab. They are looking for funding to distribute them in Brookline and Wellesley. I think they plan on distributing them all the way until election day. Though Bob Norton doesn’t live in the district – a lot of them do. They are your neighbors.
Most activists for family court reform don’t agree with Bob’s fliers. They use needlessly divisive language. We know that to solve these problems people of good will have to come together to solve them. We’ve made a lot of progress this year talking to legislators. The real leaders behind these reforms, Ned Holstein and Steve Hitner, are concerned that Bob’s fliers are going to make it more difficult to continue a helpful process next year.
Ned and Steve represent most of us. They are the true spokesmen for our bills. They helped write the bills, talked to the legislators, got the bills submitted and have been working the legislative process responsibly. We’re grateful also to Rep. Steven Walsh and Rep. Colleen Garry for sponsoring these bills and for all the legislative co-sponsors.
We’re Â Not Going Away
What legislators need to understand is that the people are tired of waiting. They are tired of their questions not being answered. They are frustrated that the process is done behind closed doors in committees comprised almost completely of lawyers and lobbyists.
This issue is not going away. There are far too many families affected. And they are getting better organized every year. They organized to help Scott Brown, who was a co-sponsor of a previous Shared Parenting Bill. They worked to defeat Lida Harkins who was always an opponent of these reforms, and supported Richard Ross who also co-sponsored some of these bills in past years. They were active in helping Sal DiDomenico who spoke up in support of shared parenting and alimony reform. I know they are organizing against Deval Patrick, who though he has several times paid lip service to their issues – has always failed to take any action.
With each race they have been learning. And they are going to continue to become more active.
This blog is itself part of that effort. I got involved in elections because I wasn’t seeing action on issues that were important to my family. In that time, meeting with legislators, writing letters and talking to people, I kept meeting other families who were affected by other issues that also were not being handled. All of us are frustrated that the legislature always seemed to have time to deal with the lobbyist’s issues but never our issues.
This blog is about more than just the issues that affect my own family. I’d like to see a legislature next year that is ready to handle the people’s business. A legislature who is willing to stand up for the needs of our towns, like supporting GIC insurance, over the demands of state workers unions. I want to see a legislature who is more afraid of cutting school funding than the priorities of lobbyists.
Most of all, I want to see a legislature next year that when confronted by a problem willÂ make a serious effort, convene the experts, really study the problem and make fair and responsible laws.
What none of us should accept is a legislature which works behind closed doors, stonewalls, makes token efforts, sells us out to political insiders and fails to make progress on the people’s business.
I’m done with party labels. Please don’t tell us about ideology – tell us what have you done? Most voters I’m sure agree – not nearly enough.
Every day our voice gets louder, and we ask our legislators – can you hear us now?