|When a state has new laws you
should consider using a
California Lawyer. If you are going
through a divorce you'll also want to make sure
the attorney you choose is also a
Divorce Lawyer. Is important that your
representation has all of the necessary
Although almost completely lost in the events surrounding the
recall election, California Governor Gray Davis just signed a
misguided bill which may seriously undermine the welfare of
California's children of divorce.
Senate Bill 156, which was passed by the legislature in
September, is an attempt to enshrine in law a custodial parent's
presumptive right to move children away from their noncustodial
parent after a divorce. In so doing it may allow the bonds
between tens of thousands of children and their parents to be
disrupted or destroyed.
Since the 1996 Burgess decision, California custodial
parents, usually mothers, have been able to move children unless
objecting fathers are able to demonstrate that the move would
prejudice their children's rights or welfare. The lower courts
have interpreted Burgess, which involved only a 40 mile
move within the state, to permit moves of hundreds or thousands
of miles. In some cases, these courts have even allowed children
to be moved out of the country, as far away as New Zealand and
In August of last year, the California Supreme Court voted 6-0
to revisit the move-away issue by hearing the
LaMusga case, in which a Contra Costa County custodial
mother sought to move to Arizona with her two young boys and her
new husband. The boys' father fought to block the move, arguing
that it would be harmful to his children because it would damage
their relationship with him. This summer the mother went ahead
with the move in defiance of a court order.
The father is unable to follow his children to Arizona because
he operates a business in Northern California and has stiff
child support obligations. This is a common problem for
noncustodial fathers, whose financial obligations often chain
them to their jobs in the original locale while they are
powerless to prevent their children from being moved far away
By successfully sponsoring SB 156, misguided women's
organizations such as the California National Organization for
Women and the California Women's Law Center have attempted to
close the door on the move-away issue before the California
Supreme Court could decide LaMusga. SB 156 amends Section
7501 of the Family Code to specifically "affirm the decision in
In re: Marriage of Burgess...and to declare that ruling to
be the public policy and law of this state."
While even an intact family's move can be disruptive for
children, according to a recent study published in the
Journal of Family Psychology, post-divorce move-aways can be
particularly damaging. The study found that among 14 variables
related to a young adult's overall well-being, move-away status
was correlated to long-term, negative consequences in 11 of
These negative consequences include: greater inner turmoil and
distress from parents' divorce; more hostility in interpersonal
relationships; negative feelings towards their parents; greater
conflict between divorced parents; and greater problems in
general life satisfaction and personal and emotional adjustment.
The study, conducted from a pool of 2,067 college students
enrolled in an introductory level class at a large university,
may even understate the damage of move-aways. As the survey's
authors point out, many of the children most damaged by divorce
and alienation from their noncustodial parents were not measured
because they probably never made it as far as college.
Legislation such as SB 156 exemplifies the hypocrisy of the
current public policy and discourse on fatherhood, wherein men
are lectured to take responsibility for their children while at
the same time their right to remain a part of their children's
lives is often limited.
Gary, a Riverside, California noncustodial father of two,
believes that move-aways wound children. He says:
"Before my divorce I devoted my life to my two girls. I coached
their softball teams, volunteered on their school field trips,
and took them to and from school every day. We were very close.
After the divorce my wife quickly remarried and moved our kids
out of state against my will. My relationship with my girls has
been severely disrupted and may never be repaired. How could
this be in the best interests of my children?"
This column first appeared in the Long Beach Press Telegram (10/18/03).