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Arizona Daily Star - 05/25/98

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The Arizona Daily Star

Family courts grow ever more fair to fathers

Robert L. Barrasso, family law attorney


In 1979 during a custody battle, one Stephen Fagan of Massachusetts, was accused of kidnapping and hiding his two children. Allegedly he took the kids because his wife was an alcoholic. If these charges are true, Fagan probably didn't have much choice. In 1979, a busy professional father had little chance of winning custody of two young children. Things were hard back then for fathers.

But in the past 15 years. and especially in the past five years, things have changed for fathers in Arizona. Joint custody is allowed by statute now, even against the wishes of the mother. A recent law protects fathers when mothers decide to move with the children. If a custodial parent wants to move more than 100 miles away, she must give the father a certified notice of her intent. He can request a hearing and try to stop the move or change his visitation, and ask the court for an order requiring the mother to pay part or all of the travel costs.

It used to be easy to ruin a fathers life and win custody with restricted visitation by accusing him of child abuse. Now many judges and mental health experts are aware of the fact that sexual abuse charges in custody cases are more likely to be false. Some even argue that the pendulum has swung too far and that judges now doubt mothers.

It is now a misdemeanor crime for a mother to deny a father visitation (unless there is danger to the child). The Legislature has also passed a law allowing the court to punish a visitation violator with fines, attorneys fees and make-up visitation.

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