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Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA) – September 3, 2012

 

This piece ran as “Council candidates on parenting issues.”  “Governor’s” was added for clarity.

PITTSFIELD

The Governor’s Council is a constitutionally created office whose primary duty is to approve judges appointed by the governor. Democrat Thomas Merrigan is stepping down from the 8th District after four two- year terms. Merrigan first took office by beating Peter Vickery by 0.76 percent in the Democratic primary of 2004, one of the small margins of victory in state history. Vickery – a good man in his own right – credited Merrigan’s win to me after I dropped out of the Democratic primary and endorsed Merrigan.

There are three Democrats in the race: Gerry Roy of Chicopee, Kevin Sullivan of Westfield, and the man with undoubtedly the most name recognition, the progressive Mike Albano of Longmeadow, who is the former mayor of Springfield. There are two Republicans, Mike Case of Washington and Mike Franco of Holyoke. I asked them about the one driving issue facing our trial court system, our Probate and Family Court judges. I asked all candidates via email the following question:

” Massachusetts law does not have a presumption in favor of or against shared parenting ( joint physically custody with roughly equal time) in child custody cases. Yet in the vast majority of cases, despite endless studies showing the advantages of shared parenting and the harm of father absence, child custody usually goes to the mother in the form of sole custody. In doing so, not only is the child harmed, but the rights of the father are trampled on. This could be avoided by appointing family court judges far more inclined to grant joint physical custody of roughly equal time when both parents are fit and able. If you are elected on the Governor’s Council, will you make sure that family court judges have a predisposition to grant shared parenting (joint physical custody with roughly equal time to both parents) when both parents are fit, willing, and able in contested child custody cases?”

Not only did I call give all candidates from Monday to Friday of last week to come up with a 100 word answer, but I had followed up on Friday with a phone call and a reminder. I would respectfully like to express my disappointment that candidates Kevin Sullivan (D) and Mike Case (R) did not elect to respond to my question, despite it being absolutely clear that their responses would be published in the Berkshire Eagle. The public has the right to know how candidates stand on the issues. Both candidates said many positive things to me on the telephone, but this is not the same as publicly answering.

Mike Franco (R) answered, “In the MA. 2002 election, the concept of presumptive shared parenting had popular support across 37 legislative districts. Voters came out overwhelmingly in favor of a non-binding public policy initiative. It’s just a matter of effectively educating the electorate. Although the Governor’s Council does not directly impact policy, as a pro-family advocate, I will continue to support shared parenting. Furthermore, a proposed law as such would have even more support today. MA. citizens are yearning for commonsense government. Presumptive shared parenting would have a net positive effect to that end.”

In fact, the non- binding public policy question won by a 78 percent margin. Franco has been a long-time member and officer of the father’s rights group, ” the Fatherhood Coalition” – a group distinct, by the way, from the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition of which I am spokesperson.

Gerry Roy (D) (GerryRoy .com) responded, “Yes. Now more than ever children need both their parents to be active in their lives. With the media glamorization of violence, drugs, gangs and sex it is critical fathers, as inherently more of a disciplinary source, are present and willing to step up to be involved in the children’s lives. It also brings back into the mix the extended family on the father’s side. Many children may have cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents who are and will be positive influences on them as they mature. These relatives must also take an active roll in the newly formed family unit.”

Mike Albano ( D) ( mike govcouncil.com) responded, “Yes. It is clear the Probate Court needs a complete overhaul by the Legislature and governor. Unfortunately, the Legislature is dominated by lawyer-legislators who have a financial interest in the workings of the Court. The result is that the lawyers win and families generally lose. Since it is unlikely the Legislature will act on reforms such as shared custody, child support and attorney fees, I will only vote to confirm activist judges who understand that families come first and are willing to make the system more fair from the bench.”

Mr. Albano is right. For too long members of my profession ( lawyers) have stopped meaningful change in family law which would dramatically reduce litigation thereby greatly reducing our own profits.

Rinaldo Del Gallo is a  family law attorney, and spokesperson of the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition.

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