(AP) -- Christopher Kennedy's
divorce taught him an unwanted lesson:
When fighting for their children,
divorced dads have to be their own
advocates in court.
For Kennedy, that
hasn't been easy.
Kennedy, of Ellington,
lost custody of his three children
last year after a contentious divorce.
The engineer is appealing two restraining
orders barring him from seeing his
kids and mostly blames the court
system for his plight.
not enforce a father's motion, and
they will do everything they can
to rule in favor of mothers,"
he said. "You would honestly
have to sit through a hearing to
believe it yourself."
Now he and other
divorced dads are taking issue with
the state's laws and court system,
claiming that they are biased towards
mothers in custody disputes. The
fathers back a bill before the General
Assembly that promotes shared parenting,
which encourages judges to have
children of broken families split
roughly equal time with both parents,
unless one parent is deeemed to
situation really is modeled on criminal
situations where there's a right
and a wrong, and a winner and a
loser. And I think that's the exact
wrong way to handle it," said
John M. Clapp, chairman of the Shared
Parenting Council of Connecticut.
Under current state
law, joint legal custody is awarded
only if parents agree. But arrangements
for children spending time with
both parents can vary greatly depending
on family circumstances. Backers
of the bill say the system doesn't
encourage co-parenting because children
often live with one parent and visit
But as lawmakers
begin to assess the state's custody
laws, they enter rough terrain.
What works for one family will not
necessarily work for another, making
it difficult to impose unilateral
Rep. Michael Lawlor,
D-East Haven, who chairs the Judiciary
Commiitte, said a group of lawmakers
will study the issue more carefully.
majority of the time, one of the
two parents is going to get physical
custody. The vast majority of the
time it is going to be the parent
that stays in the family home. The
vast majority of the time that is
going to be the mother," Lawlor
said. "How you change that,
what law you can do to change that,
I'm not exactly sure."
and the state's Judicial Department
say there are some practical problems
with defining shared parenting as
state law. Does time when a child
is in school or sleeping count?
What happens if a parent can't get
transportation, or child care, or
works hours that conflict with another
parent? Is shuttling back and forth
between two homes in a child's best
Under the current
system, there is flexibility to
look at individual family circumstances,
does not fit all when it comes to
children," said Shirley Pripstein,
a divorce attorney who serves on
the family law section for the Connecticut
Bar Association. "Shared custody
does not always work. Sometimes
the parents cannot continue to live
in the same town. It's very hard
to work a shared parenting plan
when the parents live an hour apart.
And the children often don't like
bias actually exists in the system
also is difficult. The state's Judicial
Department does not track how frequently
children are given to mothers and
fathers in divorce cases. Though
complaints can be filed against
judges, lawmakers say they are often
filed by people who are just dissatisfied
with the outcome of their cases.
Proponents of shared
parenting look to Oregon's law as
a model, which encourages parents
to get out of the courtroom and
into mediation to develop a parenting
plan. Massachusetts, New Hampshire
and New Jersey have also begun discussing
how to better encourage involvement
from both parents following a divorce.
The issue has been
studied in Connecticut before. In
2002, the Gov.'s Commission on Divorce,
Custody and Children found that
the divorce and custody process
takes too long, is too expensive,
and is stressful on parents and
One of the commission's
key recommendations was to change
state statutes to emphasize the
role of both parents in a child's
life and get parents to file parenting
plans with the court. The plans
would detail schedules and how the
parents planned to make decisions
about medical matters and school,
and remedies if a parent didn't
adhere to the plan.
have responsible and actively involved
parents they do better during and
after divorce," the report
A bill before the
Legislature would also put that
recommendation and others from the
commission into law. Clapp, the
leader of the state's shared parenting
group, said he's also supportive
of that bill.
be more in the best interests of
the child than active involvement
by both parents?" he said.
"What is better than that?
Is there anything you can think
of? It's just common sense."
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