The Newton TAB and the Boston Globe have reported a bizarre flier that has been distributed lately in Newton. It claims that Senator Cynthia Creem is â€œperpetuating a war against children and parents.â€ As chairman of the board of Fathers & Families, a national nonprofit with 6,000 supporters in Massachusetts, I am dismayed by this foolish attack. Unfortunately, the rants of a tiny group called FathersUnite.org cause people to dismiss important questions about the family courts, the welfare of our children and our elected officials.
The experience of a Fathers & Families member makes the problem clear. When his 2-year-old son Joshua (fictitious name to protect privacy) is frightened, he reflexively throws his arms around his dad and holds on for dear life. For some reason, he gets special comfort from holding onto dadâ€™s earlobe. Unfortunately, since his parents separated, the courts have ordered that he only gets to see his dad about four days per month, with no overnights. Joshua toddles around the house searching for â€œDada, Dada,â€ is often sad and sleeps poorly at night.
It is a mystery why the family courts hold on to the practice of awarding custody to just one parent, which they do over 90 percent of the time in Massachusetts, according to a study by Joseph McNabb, now with Laboure College. Wake Forest Professor of Womenâ€™s Studies Linda Nielsen lists 16 studies showing that instead of sole custody to one parent, children desire shared parenting â€” that is, lots of time with each parent. And numerous researchers, such as Rebecah Levine Coley at Boston College, have shown that children do much better in life when they have the active involvement of both their parents.
Fathers & Families has tried to help our children with shared parenting legislation, designed to gently nudge the courts towards this child-friendly solution while retaining complete judicial discretion to do what is best for each individual child. In the last session, over one-quarter of the Legislature signed on as co-sponsors of this prudent and restrained bill. And in a nonbinding ballot question a few years ago, an overwhelming majority of 700,000 Massachusetts voters â€” 86 percent â€” indicated their belief that joint physical custody should be the usual outcome if both parents are fit and if there is an absence of domestic violenceÂ (provisions that are preserved in the Fathers & Families legislation). When 86 percent agree with you, youâ€™re probably on to something.
That brings us to our elected officials.
Senator Creem has represented her district well in many respects. But Adrian Walker of the Boston Globe was correct when he pointed out that as co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, she has a conflict of interest on alimony reform. This is because her main livelihood as a divorce lawyer thrives when parents have something big to fight about.
She also has a conflict of interest on child custody legislation. Because what could be bigger than the custody of oneâ€™s children? As an actively practicing divorce attorney, Senator Creem should not simultaneously be holding up legislative reform of child custody when doing so has the potential to create parental battles from which she may profit. Especially when 86 percent of voters have shown that they want change. And if she does not already do this, she should inform her clients who wish to share the parenting of their children that she opposes shared parenting legislation.
Meanwhile, Senator Creemâ€™s opponent in the Democratic primary, Charles Rudnick, has remained unduly cautious on these issues despite the clear mandate from voters to reform custody law. There is no indication that he would help children any more than Senator Creem has, but at least he would not have a financial conflict of interest and would not be able to blunt reform as co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee. I urge him to support shared parenting legislation that would help children, diminish parental conflict, and preserve the loving bonds between both parents and their children.
There is a large and growing movement of parents nationally who call for urgent reform of our family courts to rid them of practices that do not serve modern needs. We need Mr. Rudnick to tell us where he stands on issues that affect nearly 40 percent of our children. Senator Creem, whose positions are clear, should recuse herself from deliberations on child custody, alimony and other issues on which she has a conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, Joshua is still toddling around looking for his dad under the bed and in the clothes hamper.
[ed_note]This was originally published in the Newton TAB[/ed_note]