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"Educating our communities and elected officials about the needs of survivors in our local cities and towns requires year round focus. JDI is our pathway to informing and influencing the state and national agenda to end sexual and domestic violence." ~ Karen Cavanaugh, JDI board member and Executive Director of Womanshelter/Companeras, pictured here with a JDI delegation meeting with Congressman Niki Tsongas

Contesting Divorce

Dear Editor:

We are not sure which is more disturbing: the false claims that Holstein continues to peddle or the uncritical reporting on behalf of the Globe. We’re not fooled by the wholesale misogyny put forth by Holstein’s group as a simple solution to the complex issues of custody and child welfare. To do so would ignore the potentially dangerous consequences for children caught in the middle of high-conflict divorce cases, particularly where domestic violence is a factor.

Let’s be clear. We believe strongly in co-parenting after divorce when parents can work together to raise their children. And we couldn’t agree more with the premise that fathers need to be strong, positive role models in the lives of their children. That’s the very basis of Jane Doe Inc.’s White Ribbon Day campaign.

But the proposed legislation from Holstein and other fathers’ rights groups isn’t about creating good co-parenting relationships. Nor are they going to encourage batterers to be responsible parents. They blur the line between the best interests of parents and children and aim to circumvent the current “best interest of the child” standard while leaving the former spouse and the child vulnerable to continued abuse and harassment. The evidence that Holstein points to regarding adverse affects on children is both incomplete and misleading. He ignores the legitimate reasons a child may have negative feelings toward one of his or her parents, particularly when a parent is abusive.

A review of case outcomes in Massachusetts reveals that in cases where the divorce is contested and abuse is reported, fathers are likely to receive either sole or joint custody. In addition, abusive husbands are more likely to contest custody as a means of controlling or emotionally attacking their victims. In divorces marked by ongoing disputes over the custody and care of children, both inside and outside the court, there is often a history of domestic violence on the part of one parent against the other. When there is an order for joint custody or visitation, that domestic violence often continues, with the batterer now armed with a virtual license to commit the abuse. Where courts take notice and recognize the perpetrator’s abuse and do not allow the court to become an unwitting party to it, there is hope for a future without violence for children and victims.

As the statewide advocacy coalition against sexual and domestic violence, Jane Doe Inc. urges the public and our elected officials to stay focused on the best interests of the children.

Mary R. Lauby / executive director, Jane Doe Inc.


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