Here is the view of National Organizatin of Women, New York, on the Joint Custody Bill now before the NY Senate.
Albany, N.Y.: Timesunion.com – Print Story
By MARCIA A. PAPPAS
First published: Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The state Legislature is considering the worst joint custody bill that the National Organization for Women — New York State has ever seen, presuming joint custody in all custody cases, including a deceitful attempt to redefine visitation of non-custodial parents as shared parenting.
NOW NYS has always favored primary caregiver presumption legislation to ensure stability and continuity of care for children. If a person is not involved in the lives of his or her children during the marriage, why would that involvement increase after divorce? Therefore, we oppose court-mandated joint custody and oppose changing the terminology to shared parenting.
Primary caregiver presumption would cut down on the abusive practice by the moneyed spouse (usually the husband) of coercing the non-moneyed spouse (usually the wife) to make monetary concessions rather than risk a custody battle before a biased court. This threat of a fight for custody is the fear factor that leads mothers to make financial concessions in exchange for the chance to give her children a stable life. One attorney has acknowledged that he often gave that advice to male clients. When he became chief justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals in West Virginia, he was responsible for the passage of a primary caregiver bill.
NOW NYS would like to set the record straight. It is a lie that mothers are awarded custody in 95 percent of divorce cases, as fathers rights advocates would have the public believe. Only 1 percent of cases are litigated so mothers get custody by agreement of the parties, whether or not the agreement is coerced as we describe.
Let us learn from the experience of others. In California, a report prepared 15 years after divorce reform legislation, found that one-third of joint-physical custody arrangements were indistinguishable in practice from the sole-custody visitation arrangements. After seeing the harmful effects on children by court-ordered joint custody, California ended its presumption in favor of joint custody awards in 1989.
Joint custody establishes rights without responsibilities. There is no way under current law to enforce visitation. There are no penalties for failure to visit. There is nothing in this bill, or any other joint custody or shared parenting bill, to enforce compliance with a parenting plan. The term parenting time suggests that all non-custodial parents take an active, positive role in their children’s lives. Reality shows us that many parents who are granted visitation choose not to be involved in their children’s lives. Change in terminology does nothing to enforce parental responsibility or involvement. Opponents feel that the term visitation carries a negative connotation with respect to non-custodial parents, stating that visitation is associated with visiting relatives in prison.
This is clearly a ridiculous argument. People visit family members and other people in many and varied relationships. If parents want to take an active role in their child’s life, why would terminology make a difference? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
NOW NYS believes the actual motivation for this change in terminology is to require the court to equate the parenting plan or schedule with actual parenting responsibilities, financial and otherwise. Arguments have been made by non-custodial parents that the costs of spending time with their children should be deducted from their child support obligations, ignoring the fact that it is the primary caregiver who is responsible for the day-to-day expenses of the children. This newly proposed legislation lays the dangerous groundwork for the courts to decrease child support awards based on a change of terminology.
It is an erroneous implication that the caregiver and the non-custodial parent carry the same load and devote the same time to their children.
The basis for this strong battle of the fathers’ rights groups is totally financial. It is frequently reported by school guidance counselors that a common complaint of children of divorce is that they don’t see their fathers, and it is not unusual for children to complain about the inequities of material advantages they often observe when their father acquires his new family.
This bill establishes the pretext of a continuing relationship between children and non-custodial parents, and falsely legislates in the best interest of the child. The reality is that it does nothing to advance the welfare of the children of New York.
Marcia A. Pappas is president of NOW-New York State.
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