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Massachusetts Dads Want Joint Physical Custody

I’ve written before about a father’s rights surrounding reproduction, questioning whether or not a woman should be forced to terminate or carry-out a pregnancy based on the correlating wishes of the father.  But what about a father’s rights to a child that already exists?  A bill is currently pending in the Massachusetts House “that would begin each custody case with a presumption that fathers and mothers are entitled to equal amounts of time with their children.”

That may initially seem like a simple and agreeable premise.  Most married mothers (or mothers who have an ongoing romantic relationship with the father of their child) probably feel like parenting is a responsibility that should be shared equally.  But giving a child completely equal time with both of their parents is not necessarily realistic – or good for the child – when it comes to parenting after a split.

This article in The Boston Globe centers on the story of Brian Ayers, “a part-time police officer who juggles two jobs,” and is the father of a 14-month-old son.  Ayers and his former girlfriend do not share joint physical custody of their son, and this has Ayers – and fathers’ rights groups across the state – wanting to take action.

Ned Holstein, executive director of Fathers & Families, says, “What we have right now is essentially a maternal veto over joint physical custody.”  But Nancy Allen Scannell of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children notes that while the judicial system prefers to award joint physical custody, “circumstances in divorces often make strictly equal parenting difficult because of financial or logistical problems.”  She says that “if the bill became law, judicial discretion would suffer, less attention would be paid to the specifics of each divorce, and children might be subjected to more acrimony.”

Take my divorce, for example.  My ex and I share joint custody of our daughter, and I am the residential parent.  My daughter’s father is legally entitled to see his child every other weekend, plus shared and/or alternating holidays and for a three-week vacation in the summer, an agreement almost identical to the one Ayers entered into.  It’s not possible, nor would it be advisable, for my daughter to see her father more frequently than that since we live several hours apart, and to travel for hours on end week after week would exhaust and confuse her.  (And I think ultimately make her resentful of one or both of us.)

But if a similar bill were to be made law in New York State, and judges would really have to strive to create a scenario in which 50/50 parenting was completely possible, would one of us be made to move to the same town as the other?  What if one of us was offered lucrative employment elsewhere?  Would the other parent be forced to move to that town and leave a career and family behind?  Speaking of family, how important is the presence of extended family in these decisions?  (My ex is the sole member of his family in this country, while I have a mother, siblings, a niece and several aunts, uncles and cousins all over the East Coast.) 

There is little research available showing the effects different custody arrangements have on children, probably because there are so many variables to try to account for.  In amicable divorces wherein both parents live around the corner from each other, it might work well for a child to split his/her time equally at both homes.  But it seems ridiculous to suggest that a 50/50 parenting arrangement would work in more complicated circumstances.  No doubt custody issues will continue to arise, though, if (as statistics suggest) half of the recent crop of stay-at-home Dads find their way to divorce court.

Photo: Raul A via Flickr

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