Fathers and Families Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS debated Massachusetts state Senator Cynthia Creem, co-chair of the Joint Committee on The Judiciary, on the subject of family court reform and HB 1400, Fathers and Families’ shared parenting bill. We want you to join in the debate–please post a comment to Creem’s article by clicking here.
Creem is currently in the middle of a hotly contested electoral battle to save her state Senate seat. The Creem-Holstein debate began with Dr. Holstein’s column Senator Creem and Mr. Rudnick, Help our children (Newton Tab, 8/24/10). Senator Creem fired back at Holstein with her column Acting in the best interests of children of divorce (Newton Tab, 8/31/10). Creem wrote:
Sharing custody equally can be hard, especially when parents live a great distance apart, or where limited incomes make it difficult for both parents to maintain a home for the child. Some find that consistency and stability for the child is more important than a rigid 50-50 split of parenting time. Often, even parents who reach an agreement voluntarily don’t opt for shared physical custody.
In those situations where parents can barely speak to one another, simply applying a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solution — one that depends for its success on mutual respect and cooperation — is a recipe for more problems and more conflict, not the harmony that children need. Numerous psychological studies have shown that when relations between parents are contentious, shared parenting offers children no benefit.
Holstein responded that it isn’t our shared parenting bill that is the “cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solution.” He explains:
Actually, what we have now is a one-size-fits-all solution — courts order sole physical custody to one parent over 90% of the time — and the Fathers & Families bill would bring far more variety to the outcomes, tailoring the parenting schedule to the needs of each individual child.
Creem’s belief that shared parenting should be voided when the parents “can barely speak to one another” amounts to an acceptance of what’s known as the Hostile Parent Veto. In a state like Massachusetts, which overwhelmingly awards child custody to mothers over fathers, when a custodial mother doesn’t want to shared custody, all she has to do is manufacture “conflict” and the courts often throw up their hands and say “we can’t have shared parenting if there’s conflict.”
To Creem’s credit, she does express a willingness to work with Fathers and Families on certain aspects of family court reform, and she did call Dr. Holstein in June to open a dialogue with F & F about HB 1400. In her new piece, she writes:
I filed legislation last year to make a simple yet powerful change to the law on custody and visitation. Under my bill, emotionally charged words like “custody” and “visitation” could be replaced with terms such as “decision-making responsibility” and “residential responsibility” and “parental rights and responsibilities.”
In such conflict-laden circumstances, little things can make a big difference, and I truly believe that this bill would go a long way toward de-escalating custody battles, allowing more parents to reach agreements…Ned Holstein shares my view on this, and I hope that we can work together to see it become law.
Similarly, I share his view that children are generally better off when they have continuing, positive relationships with both parents — something that can happen with or without a presumption for shared parenting. Where I disagree is only in how best to achieve that, because I do not believe that any court — now or under the shared-parenting approach — has the power to give children what they need most: two parents who can set aside their personal differences to act responsibly in the best interests of their children.
Dr. Holstein’s response to Creem’s column is below. Again, we want you to join in the debate by posting a comment to Creem’s article by clicking here.
It is refreshing that Senator Creem has now engaged on the issue of family court reform. Mr. Rudnick should now do the same, given the intense interest in this issue among voters.
The Senator and I do have a few areas of agreement, such as a change in terminology that would do away with such words as visitation. After all, a parent is a parent, not a visitor. Sadly, this bill was not voted out of the Judiciary Committee, of which she is co-chair.
Unfortunately, Senator Creem does not address the one issue that constituents care most about — that as a practicing divorce attorney, she has a strong appearance of a conflict of interest when she blocks reform of archaic traditions of the family courts that breed high conflict divorces.
It is also dismaying that she has not reported Fathers and Families’ shared parenting bill accurately. I cannot help but wonder whether she took the time as Co-chair of the Judiciary Committee to actually read the bill. Readers can see our bill for themselves at http://www.mass.gov/legis/bills/house/186/ht01pdf/ht01400.pdf.
Here are some of the non-issues that Senator Creem unfortunately raises:
1) That reformers want to change the best interests of the child standard. Not true. Fathers and Families’ shared parenting bill would retain this standard. Shared parenting would not be ordered if sole custody were in the child’s best interests.
2) That shared parenting would be imposed in every case. Our bill is very clear: the judge could still order sole custody to one parent in any case in which that would be best for the child. The only thing the judge would have to do to depart from shared parenting would be to write down the reasons why.
3) That the bill would mandate a rigid 50-50 split of parenting time. On the contrary, the bill instructs the court simply to endeavor to maximize the exposure of the child to each of the parents so far as the same is practicable. I’d say that’s pretty flexible.
4) That shared parenting is a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solution. Actually, what we have now is a one-size-fits-all solution — courts order sole physical custody to one parent over 90% of the time — and the Fathers & Families bill would bring far more variety to the outcomes, tailoring the parenting schedule to the needs of each individual child.
5) That shared parenting would be imposed in cases in which parents can barely speak to one another, or live a great distance apart. Not so. See 2 and 3 above.
6) That we are fathers’ rights activists. The Senator knows that we do not seek any special rights for fathers. Readers can look at our website and see that the wellbeing of children is our primary concern and that Gender Equality is a core principle: http://www.fathersandfamilies.org/?page_id=1204.
And while Senator Creem quotes the Boston Globe about shared parenting correctly, she leaves out other parts, such as the Globe’s belief that F & F’s goal of shared parenting is “a goal with great merit.”
I would feel better about Senator Creem’s claim that she supports divorce law reform if there had been evidence of this during her years in the Senate. Or if she had devoted this column to the joy children feel when they do not have to lose a parent in a divorce, rather than using most of the column to attack an imaginary bill that no one has filed.
But to her credit, at least she is engaging with the voters on an issue they care about. This requires courage when one feels unfairly attacked. But Mr. Rudnick remains silent. Mr. Rudnick, where are you?
If you’re interested in getting involved in Massachusetts family court reform activism, please fill out our volunteer form here.