The Brass Ring of Custody: Toward a Better Solution for Families in Massachusetts
8 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2015 Last revised: 10 Aug 2017
Date Written: 2011
Representatives Eugene O'Flaherty and John Keenan in the Massachusetts House, and Senator Cynthia Stone Creem in the Massachusetts Senate sponsored legislation in 2009 entitled: An Act Relative to Parental Choice of Terminology in Certain Domestic Relations Matters that originated from the Boston Bar Association. If passed, the proposed legislation would add a new section to the divorce chapter of the Massachusetts General Laws, providing divorcing parents the option to use alternative terminology when referring to the post-divorce involvement of parents in their children’s lives. Such proposed changes include, among other things, opting for “parental rights and responsibilities” in place of the current term “custody,” defining “parenting plans” and suggesting elements for designing such plans. While the proposed legislation would change the divorce statute by amending only one provision -- using “alternative language” rather than more “traditional” custodial language -- this change could be a force in shaping new social norms around parenting in the Commonwealth. Many parents feel disempowered by the divorce process; a process that changes the family structure after separation. The bill would benefit both parents and children by using language that encourages parents to remain involved with their children. Such a change in the current Massachusetts statute has the potential to reduce the all too often perception of bias in probate court if it is clear that the Commonwealth encourages co-parenting. However, the legislation also contemplates that there may be cases in which encouraging cooperative parenting may not be appropriate for parents that cannot co-parent and for that reason, the “alternative language” in the proposed legislation is suggested as an option rather than a mandated change of the current law.
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