This article appeared on Boston.com's website.....but like many American news sites, it requires membership to read....here is the article, copied-and-pasted:-
Equal access to children after a divorce
By Cathy Young | October 16, 2004
On Nov. 2, voters in 36 legislative districts and one Senate district
in Massachusetts -- more than a quarter of all voters in the state --
will be able to vote in a nonbinding referendum instructing their
representatives to vote for legislation that creates a presumption of
joint legal and physical custody and equal access for both parents,
unless one of them is unfit.
In the recent heated debates about same-sex marriage, gay rights
advocates have rightly deplored the fact that same-sex partners lack
basic rights in many areas, including custody rights when they
separate after raising a child together. Yet even with the benefits of
full civil marriage, an uncivil divorce can often leave heterosexual
parents, especially men, feeling that they have few rights and few
At present, 11 states and the District of Columbia have a legal
presumption in favor of joint custody; another eight states apply such
a presumption when both parents are in agreement. Massachusetts has neither. Fathers' rights groups, which have succeeded in placing the joint custody referendum on the ballot, such as the Fatherhood
Coalition and Fathers and Families, point out that the overwhelming
majority of divorces involving children result in full physical
custody for the mother.
When Joseph McNabb, professor of health care education at Northeastern University, analyzed custody decisions from Worcester Probate and Family Court in 1994-95, he found that fathers won sole physical custody (usually with shared legal custody) in slightly fewer than 9 percent of all cases. An additional 6 percent got shared physical custody.
Disparities -- be it in the workplace or in child custody -- are not
automatic proof of discrimination. Men and women still tend to have
different parental roles; many men never seek custody, because th
don't trust their parenting skills, or because they feel that a child
belongs with the mother, or because they're comfortable with the
"weekend visitor" role. Others are persuaded, sometimes by their
attorneys, that seeking custody would be too costly and painful to all
involved. But bias in the courts plays a role as well.
Some feminists who see the fathers' rights movement as a patriarchal backlash like to cite the 1989 Gender Bias Study of the Massachusetts SJC, which reported that fathers who sought custody got it 70 percent of the time. But that includes contested and uncontested cases. The same study showed that mothers who filed for sole custody received it 75 percent of the time (with the rest usually getting joint legal/primary physical custody); the "success rate" for fathers was 44 percent. It also mentioned, when explaining why few noncustodial mothers pay child support, that "women who lose custody often do so because of mental, physical, or emotional handicaps." Fathers may need to be far more fit to prevail.
Many noncustodial fathers are able to maintain a close, loving
relationship with their children. Too many others end up feeling, in
the words of Arizona State University psychologist Sanford Braver,
like "parents without children" -- disenfranchised, hurt, and angered
by being denied a meaningful role in raising their children. The
answer is not to give fathers an equal opportunity to "win"; it's to
ensure that both parents after divorce can remain parents, not winners and losers. Joint custody is not a panacea, and it may be harmful in a minority of extremely high-conflict divorces. But the evidence so far suggests that it's a good start. Not only does it alleviate the harmful consequences of divorce for parents and children; in some cases, it may prevent divorce.
Studies by George Mason University law and economics professor
Margaret Brinig and other scholars have found that, state by state,
high rates of joint custody awards are correlated with lower divorce
rates. One possible explanation is that when both spouses know they will have likely have to cooperate with the other parent after
divorce, they're more likely to make an effort to make the marriage
Not even the best policy can make divorce pain-free or problem-free.
But we will make a step forward if we start to seek solutions based on a presumption of equality -- the presumption that both parents need their children and that children need both parents.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. Her column appears regularly in the Globe.
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