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First Person/Ned Holstein

Fighting dad

Ned Holstein, 67, of Newton, battles for divorced fathers' rights.

By Jenna Russell
June 19, 2011

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A decade and a half ago, you founded Fathers and Families, now a national advocacy group that lobbies to make shared custody the default after a divorce. What’s been your biggest obstacle?

Old-fashioned gender bias. Just as it hurts women in the workplace, we think men and children are hurt in family court by the same bias. Judges still award [physical] custody to mothers by default; fathers still see their children every other weekend and maybe Tuesday nights. It’s a cookie-cutter solution that has outlived its usefulness.

What are the consequences?

There is evidence showing adverse outcomes [for kids]. They feel terrible, they long for the missing parent, and begin to draw conclusions that they’re not worthy.

Who is against your proposed bill, which is before the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee?

Domestic violence groups. We accept it’s a problem, and that’s one reason our bill gives judges discretion to revert to sole custody for any good reason. Women’s groups are also against it, but they can’t turn out a crowd on this issue. The public understands this is good for children.

Is attaining perfect equality always practical?

It doesn’t call for a 50-50 split. It can be 70-30 or 80-20, depending on the situation. We hope judges say, “You two are equal before the law; work out a schedule.”

Why would mothers oppose this?

More do want it. They understand the equity of it. But most people embroiled in a divorce are not happy. Their dreams are shattered. And when child support [creates] a windfall, it makes it hard to give that money up and do what children want, which is to keep both parents.

Is it frustrating to get stereotyped as “angry dads” out for revenge against ex-wives?

Of course. Opponents attribute all kinds of negative intent, but our idea is so simple: We love our kids and want to help raise them.

  • June 19, 2011 cover
  • June 19, 2011 cover
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