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With Senate Bill 834, Massachusetts fathers fight for their rights to parent

In previous decades, when heterosexual parents divorced, a mother was almost always guaranteed to be awarded child custody and the father granted visitation rights which often amounted to seeing a son or daughter every other weekend and the occasional weekday or holiday.

However, child custody laws that favored mothers were conceived during a time when a majority of mothers stayed home. Today, with more than 70 percent of U.S. women working outside the home, many fathers have stepped up to take on more child-rearing duties. These societal and familial changes have spurred changes within the family courts as fathers fight for equal custody rights and the right to be more than just a visitor in a child's life.

In Massachusetts, Senate Bill 834 is the result of years of efforts by divorced fathers and fathers' rights advocates who are fed up with child custody and visitation terms that still heavily favor mothers. The bill would strongly encourage family law judges to "grant shared custody in which a child would spend no less than one-third of the time with each parent." Additionally, provisions included in the bill would ensure that parents who fail to comply with "court-ordered parenting plans," face sanctions.

While proponents of Senate Bill 834 contend it provides fathers with rights that are long-overdue, skeptics and opponents asserts the bill puts the best interests of parents ahead of a child's; arguing that there are times when granting equal or shared custody may actually serve to harm a child. For example, in cases where a parent has a history of substance abuse or domestic violence or when parents have a hostile relationship with one another.

For now, the future of the bill remains uncertain as it must gain support and pass both the House and Senate. Child custody issues can become extremely complicated and emotional. For these reasons, Massachusetts parents who are struggling with child custody, visitation and support matters would be wise to seek the help of an attorney.

Source: Boston Globe, "In Mass. and elsewhere, a push for custody reform," Dugan Arnett, Aug. 1, 2015

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