|Bill Which Would Harm Children of Divorce Defeated in Face of Massive Opposition
May 10, 2006
In a stunning victory for children of divorce, yesterday California Senator Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) withdrew SB 1482, a bill which would have granted custodial parents an almost unlimited right to move children far away from their noncustodial parents. Romero withdrew the bill in the face of over 4,000 opposition calls, letters and faxes. It is the second time in less than two years that a California bill designed to permit unrestricted move-aways has been defeated.
The bill was supported by a wide array of feminist groups, including the California National Organization for Women and the California Commission on the Status of Women. Opposition to the bill was led by the Alliance for Children Concerned About Move-Aways, an advocacy group endorsed by over 50 mental health and family law professionals, and the California Alliance for Families and Children, which lobbied intensively against the bill. The bill was also opposed by the California Judge's Association, the California Psychological Association, and the State Bar of California's Family Law Section.
Move-aways are an increasingly contentious issue in family law, and California has been the nation's largest battleground on the issue. From 1996 to 2004 move-away determinations were based on the Burgess decision, which was interpreted by California courts as conferring unlimited move-away privileges. Under Burgess the bonds between tens of thousands of children and their noncustodial parents were needlessly ruptured.
The California Supreme Court addressed the problem in the LaMusga decision in April of 2004 by making it clear that courts can prevent children from being moved when it is detrimental to their interests. Among the factors deemed important were the relationship between the child and the nonmoving parent.
In the summer of 2004 then Senate President John Burton introduced SB 730, a bill which would have abrogated LaMusga. Burton withdrew the bill a few weeks later in the face of massive opposition organized by ACCAMA, CAFC and others, just as Romero did yesterday with SB 1482. According to newspaper columnist Glenn Sacks, the founder of ACCAMA, SB 1482 would have led to numerous abuses. He says:
"The Traub case is a good example of the problem with the Burgess decision. A divorced California custodial mother remarried and sought to move with her 13 year-old daughter. The mom had previously moved several hundred miles away, and dad had uprooted himself and moved to be with his daughter. Then mom moved several hundred miles away again, and dad again uprooted himself and moved to be with his daughter. Then mom decides to move again--to Costa Rica! They have no ties in Costa Rica, the girl doesnít speak Spanish and doesnít want to go, but mom remarried recently and her new husband lived in Costa Rica 58 years ago and wants to go back. Believe it or not, under Burgess the court actually granted the move-away request. The court gave the OK to throw away Eric Traub's 13 years of loving fatherhood the moment the strong, loving bond he shares with his daughter became inconvenient for mom."
"The facts of the LaMusga move-away case are another good example of the abuses under Burgess. In that case the mother insisted that she be allowed to move her two young boys from the Bay Area to Ohio because, she claimed, she wanted to attend a law school there. Apparently none of the eight law schools in the Bay Area sufficed. Later she moved to Arizona because, she explained, her new husband needed work. His job? Selling cars. And with the blessing of the courts, Gary LaMusga's sons were moved out of state for this nonsense."
In opposing SB 1482, Mary C. Molinaro of the California State Bar's Family Law Executive Committee warned that "a bad motive of a moving parent must be considered in a move away analysis. A purposeful move on one parentís part to frustrate the relationship that another parent has with the child is a necessary consideration in whether to allow the move. The specific language in the bill would seem to indicate that the court could deny a parent's request objecting to the move and relinquishing a change of custody without an evidentiary hearing even in the situation... where the parent exercised a true shared parenting arrangement or where a parent truly had a bad motive for failing to show substantial detriment."
SB 1482 would have specifically prohibited a parent seeking to prevent his or her children from being moved far away from citing most of the evidence that could provide a basis for restraining the move. Under this bill, nonmoving parents would be prevented from citing the move's impact on their children's relationships with them or the effects on the children of losing their schools and friends. Sacks noted:
"If you can't cite the impact on the children of them losing their noncustodial parents, losing their school, losing their neighborhood and losing their friends, how exactly are you supposed to demonstrate the move's detriment? Unless the moving parent planned to relocate to Baghdad or Beirut, it's impossible."