Family court nominee says both parents key in children’s lives
Governor Deval Patrick’s nominee to the Middlesex Probate and Family Court, attorney Jeffrey Abber, said yesterday that he always works to ensure both parents are included in the lives of their children, when it comes to custody battles.
In some cases, he said, “this is not possible,’’ but added that he would work to “stay above the bickering, get to the heart of the matter, not say or do anything . . . unless it is absolutely necessary, that impacts the ability of both parents to work together.’’
During a three-hour hearing, the Fatherhood Coalition, which often attends judicial confirmation hearings, opposed Abber’s nomination, saying he declined to disclose to the group his views on custody decisions and restraining orders.
Patrick McCabe, who heads the group, noted that one of Abber’s supporters, Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Paula Carey, had spoken in support of onetime Patrick nominee David Aptaker, who withdrew from consideration after a controversy about his undisclosed political donations.
Asked by Councilor Carole Fiola how he makes quick decisions in complicated custody matters, Abber said he tries to determine whether the arguments between mothers and fathers are issues of parenting, or simply acrimony between estranged spouses.
In a recent case, he said, he represented two children in state custody.
In that case, the mother alleged that the father had a substance abuse problem, and the father said he had concerns that the children’s maternal grandfather had sexually abused them. But Abber said in both cases, the parents had known about the issues for years and appeared only to be raising them because they were upset with each other.
“Was it really an issue? Or was it just a real dispute that was coming to the forefront because the marriage was over?’’ he said. “Are they fit as a parent, that’s what you need to focus on.’’
Councilor Christopher Iannella said he did not like certain answers Abber offered about weighing the distance between the mother’s and father’s homes when deciding custody cases. Iannella described how he had to fight for custody of his children during a divorce.
“The reason I’m so passionate about this is I got what 99.9 percent of the parents and mothers and fathers don’t,’’ he said. “My kids live with me 50 percent of the time . . . they took the boat from Hingham, got off at Rowes Wharf, and they had to wear those heavy backpacks, and they took the Orange Line and I picked them up at Forest Hills. Imagine what time they had to get up.’’
Iannella wondered whether Abber would consider telephone calls or Internet conversations, such as those conducted via Skype, as parental visits.
“Telephone calls and Skyping are not visitation,’’ Abber said. “That’s absolutely not acceptable.’’