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CPF/The Fatherhood Coalition
617-723-3237 W. Mass: 413-295-DADS
Fathers Rights Advocates to Testify at Statehouse

Fatherhood Coalition reps to speak on shared parenting and restraining order reform

BOSTON, May 17 – Fathers Rights advocates from across the state will converge on the State House today to give testimony to the Judiciary Committee on shared parenting and 209A reform (MGL 209A abuse protection “restraining order”).

The hearings are scheduled for 1 pm today in Room B2. Several shared parenting bills are on the docket. The Fatherhood Coalition supports Senate bill 855, brought forward by senators Scott Brown, Richard Tesei and Richard Ross.

According to Fatherhood Coalition co-Chairman Michael P. O’Neil, “[I]n Massachusetts today, over 90% of the time, a judge will rule that it is in ‘the best interest of the child’ to have his access to one of his parents—usually the child’s father—severely restricted…studies and statistics show the exponential increase in teen pregnancy, suicide, drug usage and school failures that follow these unconscionable court edicts.”

Coalition members will also be speaking to the critical need to reform the state’s notorious abuse protection law, MGL 209A, from which thousands of “restraining orders” restricting the civil and human rights are yearly issued, mainly to men. Coalition Spokesman Mark Charalambous and others will be testifying in support of House bill 833, the “209A Reform bill.”

According to Charalambous, “Legal protections routinely afforded hardened criminals are denied fathers who are often merely accused of making their estranged wives or girlfriends afraid, with no accusation of any actual violence at all.”

Under 209A, a defendant can immediately lose all access to his children as well as being barred from his own home.

These restraining orders are known as the “nuclear first strike” in rancorous divorces, most often when a custody battle is likely. A mere accusation of “abuse” made at a hearing in which the man is not even present and has no knowledge of is sufficient for a judge to issue a 209A restraining order under the present law.

“The abuse protection/domestic violence regime which draws its ammunition from MGL 209A has created a virtual engine of fatherlessness,” Charalambous contends.

Steve Basile, the Fatherhood Coalition’s research director, conducted a study of restraining orders issued out of Gardner District Court. The second phase of the research has just been published in the June edition of the Journal of Family Violence (the first phase was published in the Feb. 2004 edition).

The research shows a clear double standard in the application of 209A with respect to male and female plaintiffs and defendants.

From the Abstract:

“Are male victims of domestic violence provided the same protections as female victims? With increasing entanglement of custody and domestic violence law, the answer to this question is critical for fathers embroiled in disputes where allegations are sometimes made to secure custody of children… Despite gender-neutral language of abuse prevention law (M.G.L. c. 209A), application of that law favors female plaintiffs.”

Basile will also be present at the State House today.

Links to the study and ancillary material can be found at the Fatherhood Coalition web site: www.fatherhoodcoalition.org

Shared Parenting Ballot Initiative garnered 85% approval in November’s election

On Election Day Nov. 2, voters in 36 legislative districts and one Senate district voted overwhelmingly in favor of the notion that children of divorce and family breakup fare best when they have frequent and continued contact with both of their parents.

This is best accomplished under a “shared parenting” custody agreement, according to Fathers Rights advocates. The non-binding referendum question asked voters if they agree that, absent exceptional circumstances, both parents have a “fundamental right” to shared and physical custody of their minor children. Overall, the ballot initiative was approved by 85% of the voters.

According to O’Neil, “Voter approval of the measure lent credibility to the shared parenting movement and spurred the present legislative initiatives; most of these shared parenting bills are consistent with the spirit of the ballot question.”

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