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Massachusetts task force ponders custody changes

Massachusetts legislators are contemplating changes in the state's child custody laws that would provide both parents of children with equal custody rights at the urging of advocates at the state and local level.

Gov. Deval Patrick established a task force comprised of attorneys, elected officials, psychologists, parents and governor's office administration members to hash out possible revisions to existing laws. A proposal is supposed to land on the governor's desk as early as March.

Massachusetts children being reared in divided households make up approximately 30 percent of the children throughout the state. Barring cases of neglect or abuse, advocates of shared parenting argue that it is in the children's best interest.

The National Parent Organization is one of the groups pushing for a change in statutes. According to one member, courts that order sums of child support to be paid to the custodial parent and then imprison the non-custodial parent, usually the father, if he fails to make payments in full, risk alienating the child from the father. These men also face an increased risk of depression and even suicide.

Gov. Patrick formed the task force as a response to State Rep. Colleen Garry's series of bills that would make shared joint and physical custody the norm in cases of divorce and divided households.

In Garry's proposed legislation, each family situation would be independently reviewed to get the best fit rather than follow a strict 50/50 time split. Both parents would have comparable time with their children and neither would simply have the right to "visit" with them.

The Massachusetts Women's Bar Foundation opposes such legislative changes because its members believe they would override the current practice of putting the child's best interest ahead of the parents', while also allowing for judicial discretion.

Any parent with custodial issues pending before the court would be wise to pay close attention to any proposed changes in Massachusetts custody laws, as this could adversely affect child support awards and/or living arrangements. However, an attorney well-versed in Massachusetts family law can provide advice regarding a family's individual custody arrangements.

Source: Sentinel & Enterprise, "Push grows for shared parenting" Chelsea Diana, Feb. 18, 2014

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