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Overdue changes could be coming to Massachusetts custody laws

The concept of child custody has changed greatly around the U.S. in recent decades. There was a time in this country when, upon a couple's divorce, it was more or less expected that children would stay with their mother and see their fathers only intermittently for visitation time. The burgeoning fathers' rights movement, along with the growing prominence of working mothers, has meant that these assumptions are no longer necessarily valid.

However, it has taken time for Massachusetts child custody laws to catch up to prevailing sentiments. A committee created by the governor's office has suggested realigning current policies to indicate that children are often best off when they have significant time with each of their parents.

Some of the changes relate to the language that Massachusetts state code uses, including phrases that are largely outdated. One of these is "visitation," which carries the notion of one parent being less substantial than the other. This is replaced by "parenting time," which is a more neutral term.

Indeed, even the word "custody" could be in line for an overhaul as well. The guidelines suggest using "decision-making responsibility" and "residential responsibility" in order to denote the broader responsibilities that parenthood entail.

These changes are mainly aimed at the cases where parents cannot come to an agreement on their own, via mediation or negotiation, and have to have their situations decided by the courts. That encompasses only 10 to 15 percent of all divorce cases. Even so, the impact to large numbers of children would be indelible.

Source: The Boston Globe, "Massachusetts custody proposal rightly stresses time with both parents," May 18, 2014

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