All's Fair: Proposal Would Make Divorcing Parents Equals

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No one gets married intending to someday get divorced. Divorce is a difficult emotional experience, especially when it involves children. Hope is on the horizon, however: a new, common sense proposal in the Massachusetts House would make the divorce experience less contentious for parents.

By making divorce less antagonistic for parents, it becomes less traumatic for children who are often caught in the middle. House Bill 1400 offers that promise by changing a traditional, flawed premise in Massachusetts courts: that the parents are unequal; that mothers are always presumed to be the fittest of the two parents to have custody of the children.

Sharing Parenting

That flawed premise is grounded in a distant past in which only mothers participated in the raising of children, and fathers were always the sole breadwinners. The outdated thinking would be replaced by an old-but-new principle of equality. The Shared Parenting Bill would require courts handling divorces to treat mother and father as if they're equally capable and competent parents. The court would begin proceedings assuming that the parents will share custody and parenting responsibilities.

The law would serve divorcing parents well in the vast majority of cases; those in which both parents are fit. The court would be able to make exceptions when someone has demonstrated that they're unfit to share custody.

The bill contains straightforward language: "In making an order or judgment relative to the custody of children, the rights of the parents shall, in the absence of misconduct that is harmful to the child, be held to be equal."

Overdue Equality

There's an old saying that everything old is new again. Equality among parents is long overdue; it's an old idea ready to be new in courts.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the bill — other than bringing fairness into a deeply personal and important part of life — is that it will lower tensions between the parents.

Fathers won't have to go into court with a chip on their shoulders, having to fight to prove that they belong in their children's lives. Mothers won't automatically have all the responsibilities of child-rearing dropped into their laps.

Both will have to consider the other's needs and abilities. Most important, they and the courts will be better equipped to come to custody agreements that truly have the best interests of the children as their foundation.

When the Law Enters Your Life

If and when the Shared Parenting Bill becomes law, it will usher in a new era of fairness for parents and their children as they all go through a divorce and custody issues.

However, if you face divorce now, speak with a Massachusetts family law attorney who understands current law and how best to use it to protect you and your children. A Massachusetts divorce lawyer explains your legal options and obligations and helps you navigate a complicated legal system.