I'm here to represent 85% of the electorate in asking you to adopt the strongest possible presumption of joint physical custody. I'm not paid to be here and have no self interest in speaking. I have first hand experience with shared parenting, unlike any other speaker today.
I have 3 things to say.
1. A common tactic of those who are paid to object is to claim that joint custody is impractical, or that it only works when both parties agree. This is piffle.
My divorce was high-conflict, but through 2.5 years of mediation, then lawyers, we narrowly avoided court. Not through mutual agreement, but due to a threat of mutually assured destruction if we went to court. In an odd way, we obtained equal powers, but courts should ensure that be upholding equal individual rights to start.
After 10 years of practicing equal parenting, my experience illustrates how joint parenting works - even when it arises from a high conflict divorce.
The key to success is to negotiate a detailed contract that partitions authority so parents have disjoint responsibilities, thus limiting conflict. Parents must admit the other is competent and agree not to accost the other in front of the child, or consequences apply. Email works wonders for that part.
My son is 12 now, gets straight A+'s, and is much better adjusted than a comparable neighbor who was raised in the culture of welfare-state divorce. In fact, his highest aspiration is to be one of you. If you ask him why he wants to be a lawyer, he says "because I like to argue". To isolate children from conflict is to deprive them of a real learning opportunity.
My son and I are quite close, and I know this is due to our our co-parenting arrangement.
In effect, I retained a right to shift my role from "primary earner" to working part time in order to replace lost parenting time. I'm lucky I got divorced in New Hampshire.
In Massachusetts, I would likely be branded a criminal for "escaping child support".
I would be forced to pay my enemy to care for my child - forced to pay many times what it actually costs, and forced to toil for it - a travesty of labor I previously did from devotion.
There are many like me, but you don't hear from us because we are busy making our lives work -- without the courts. Sure, shared parenting is complex, but I know intact families who have worse logistical problems.
So, the arguments used against joint parenting are easily refuted with logic and example.
2: How can a state that upholds individual rights regarding marriage be so
backward regarding divorce?
The reasoning used in the Goodridge decision (re gay marriage), recognizes a
class of people denied certain rights by biases of the court. This "scarred"
population suffered a hardship.
There is a much larger population of parents who are denied an equal role in
raising their own children, based simply on their parental orientation. The primary
earner is punished by being bereaved of parental rights. The bond between parent
and child is often stronger than that between spouses, and to sever it is to
This is indeed scarring, emotionally and financially.
The economic and social hardship wrought upon society at large by these discriminatory practices is deep, systemic, and very very costly, - especially compared to the hardships imposed by gender role bias in marriage.
The current practice of awarding one parent more rights is based on "soft" science - subjective claims and ambiguous statistics. There is little evidence to say that punishing the primary-earner parent by taking away their right to raise their child benefits children. There IS evidence to suggest that equal parenting benefits children and thus society.
Because the evidence for this practice is inconclusive, the courts must uphold a the standard established by oodridge, of individual rights - for children and competent parents.
3: The public is adamant on this topic, especially compared to its support for gender-role blind marriage.
So please, let's examine priorities.
In November a ballot question for presuming joint physical custody received 85% approval.
The language in the referendum was very clear. Although the ballot was non-binding, the mandate is clear. This was a historical result. 85% too unanimous a result to have arisen from any gender or party bias.
For comparison, the public support for gay marriage is at around 49%.
If the courts uphold the rationale behind the Goodridge decision for marriage, they must agree to uphold equal rights for divorcing parents, regardless of their gender
orientation as parents.
If the legislature saw fit to enact gay marriage laws a priority with 49% public support for it, they should place almost twice the urgency on enacting shared parenting bills, which have 85% support.
I have argued three things.
1: the main objections to presuming joint physical custody are easily refuted by counterexample (mine)
2: the reasoning behind upholding individual rights regarding gender role -blind marriage
must also apply in divorce (or be revoked...).
3: based on the relative hardship involved and the support for this legislation, it should have twice the priority of any laws involving gender role -blind marriage.
When will we see amendments like #855, 841, and the others enacted?
More importantly, when will we see the actual practice reformed?
thanks very much for listening!
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