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Group of women leaders seeks gender equity in child custody

A somewhat surprising group of women with national prominence has founded a new family law advocacy group called Leading Women for Shared Parenting, or LW4SP, with the goal of bringing greater gender equity to child custody and parenting time decisions in family courts. The national, invitation-only group, which includes such diverse woman as a former president of the National Organization for Women and the ultra-conservative Phyllis Schlafly, was founded last month here in Massachusetts and plans to hold its official launch on Father's Day.

Massachusetts family law, like that of most states, explicitly says that child custody and parenting time decisions must be made in the best interest of the children. While the family courts undoubtedly do their best to follow that, the fact is that women continue to be awarded primary physical custody of the children after a divorce or paternity action -- leaving men with what used to be called "visitation."

Over time, family courts in Massachusetts and many other states have stopped referring to fathers’ time with their kids “visitation” and begun referring to it as “parenting time,” but statistics still indicate that the underlying inequity toward fathers is a continuing problem.

LW4SP wants to make one thing crystal clear: both men and women firmly believe that children deserve equal time with both parents. While the diverse members may have fundamentally opposing views in other areas, all of them agree that moms and dads are equally important in children’s lives, and that parenting needs to be shared much more equally between them.

They back up their claim in part by citing study by a psychology professor at the University of Arizona. That study found no statistical difference between men and women in the U.S. on the question of whether parenting time should be more or less equal in most cases. Both men and women fully support that idea.

Does the group oppose the fathers’ rights movement? Certainly not. In fact, they say the addition of a women’s voices to the struggle for gender-neutral child custody and parenting orders may be just what is needed to get political traction.

“If you look at history, no group involved in any kind of struggle can affect change on their own,” said the Massachusetts dad who helped get the idea of LW4SP going among his female colleagues. “When women start to add their voice to this, it will get done.”

Hopefully, the addition of LW4SP to the discussion can rein in the idea among some that family law is a battle between the interests of men and women and lead the conversation toward solutions.

Source: The Star Tribune, "Rosenblum: Divorced dads get big gift from fired-up moms," Gail Rosenblum, June 8, 2013

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