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Fathers rights documentary premiering this month

Filmmaker Janks Morton explores the complicated and sometimes controversial issues surrounding the U.S. family court system in a new documentary set to make its debut on July 26 in Washington, D.C.

The film, titled “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” discusses how millions of people are influenced by what it says is the family courts’ often unnecessary decision to separate children from their parents – fathers in particular. The film, according to a press release by the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, investigates how the “unnecessary separation of children from a parent is creating a nation of fatherless kids.”

There will be a discussion following the documentary’s premiere to address audience comments and offer research and other support to back up the “positive solutions” discussed in the film. The statement said the discussion will revolve around issues such as whether a couple should stay together for the sake of their kids and the way fathers really feel about their relationships with their children.

Mothers are granted primary custody in 70 percent of U.S. child custody cases. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that there are 3.4 divorces per 1,000 people.

Mass. House to tackle alimony reform

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has given initial approval of legislation that would overhaul the state’s alimony system, according to the State House News Service.

Rep. Paul Donato, who presided over the House session in question, said the government body would likely hold a formal session next week to debate the proposed changes in the bill. Under the legislation, state law would lay out specific guidelines on the levels and duration of alimony payments to former spouses, the news service reports.

The bill, which currently has 133 co-sponsors from both parties, would establish a timeline for alimony payments, basing them on the duration of the marriage. For instance, in the case of a divorcing couple married for five years or less, the person receiving alimony would get payment for half the number of months of the union. For a 10- to 15-year marriage, the source reports judges would award payment for between 60 to 70 percent of the number of months a couple was married. It would be up to a judge’s discretion to determine how much alimony is due for a marriage surpassing 20 years.

There were 21,232 divorce filings in Massachusetts in 2009, according to Massachusetts Alimony Reform, resulting in 16,289 cases of alimony modification. The website stated that alimony modifications accounted for almost 30 percent of all Massachusetts Family and Probate Court cases in 2008.

Bay State lawmakers propose alimony reform bill

Massachusetts lawmakers have proposed a new alimony reform bill that would significantly alter how alimony payments are determined in the state and place caps on payment duration, according to published reports.

The bill, known as the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011, would allow judges to base alimony awards on the recipients actual financial need for spousal support and end payments for long-term marriages at retirement age. In addition, short-term marriages would receive earlier caps and payments would end if the recipient remarried or began living with another partner.

A task force began working on the reform effort more than a year ago, according to the Boston Business Journal, which said it was started by Judiciary Co-chairs Senator Cynthia Creem and Representative Eugene O’Flaherty.

“The word I’ve heard is there is a lot of momentum behind this bill, and that legislators are motivated to do something about this issue,” Kelly Leighton, a local divorce attorney and co-chair of the Boston Bar Associations family law section, told the newspaper.

Multiple states have recently proposed legislation to alter outdated alimony laws. In West Virginia, lawmakers are advocating a bill that would not require an individual to pay alimony if their partner had an affair during their marriage.

Haslam signs Tennessee child custody bill

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill that will require judges to consider how to maximize both parents involvement in their child’s life when making custody decisions, reported The Associated Press.

While other factors will be considered as well, the media outlet said the requirement may lead some judges to increase visitation time and designate equal 50-50 custody more often. Supporters of the legislation say judges should be presented with the tools needed to do what is in the best interest of a child, according to the AP.

The law will only apply to new custody cases. The source said parents under older court orders will have to demonstrate a considerable change in circumstances to alter their visitation and custody schedules.

The legislation passed 92-0 in the state House of Representatives and 19-9 in the Senate. The measure was sponsored by Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga.

The approval comes amidst a series of family law proposals in Tennessee. The state Supreme Court is set to decide a case that could determine how alimony is awarded between a divorced couple, in addition to another case pertaining to paternity fraud.

Man chooses jail over alimony

A West Virginia man is sitting in jail rather than paying alimony to his ex-wife, in a move that he hopes will lead to the state enacting child paternity laws.

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel reports that Sean Keefe is spending six months in jail rather than pay his former wife $1,800 a month in alimony.

Keefe said that he discovered during the divorce process that he is not the father of his wife’s youngest child, and while his current wife says he has continued to pay $1,300 a month in child support, he has drawn the line at paying the spousal support, reports the news source.

Keefe and his current wife are hoping that Senate Bills 502 and 503, which were introduced in the state legislature during the most recent session, will be passed and help men going through divorce.

The purpose of SB 502 is to “provide a procedure for vacating a judgment of paternity when there is genetic evidence that excludes the previously established father as the biological father of the child in question,” according to the website of the West Virginia legislature.

Bill 503 would bar alimony payments if there is proof of an affair.