Search this site:
Stay Informed:  Please enter your e-mail address below:

Become Active

Contact Us



We could use your help. If you are interested in making a corporate donation for 2008, please e-mail Michael Robinson. As always, thank you for your generous support!

In the News

Thursday, August 12, 2004

New legislation would gut decision on fathers' rights

By David M. Drucker
Sacramento Bureau
L.A. Daily News

SACRAMENTO August 12, 2004 -- Divorced fathers elated with a California Supreme Court ruling granting them more equality in child-custody cases are now fighting a hastily written bill that would force judges to favor mothers who want to move away with the children.

John Eisendrath, 45 -- whose ex-wife moved 200 miles north of his Los Angeles home even though a judge said it was not in their two young sons' best interest -- was the first divorced father to benefit from an Supreme Court decision in April that found the child's interest must be considered above the mother's.

But with powerful Democratic Sen. John Burton carrying legislation to negate the legal grounds that made Eisendrath's successful appeal possible, the television writer and one-time executive producer of "Alias" traveled to Sacramento to urge lawmakers and the Schwarzenegger administration to oppose the bill, which is strongly supported by women's advocates.

"What terrifies me ... is that the ink wasn't even dry on a very reasonable, thoughtful, long-awaited and. I think. landmark state Supreme Court decision before legislation was being rushed through the Assembly to gut it," Eisendrath said.

"This is a prime example of 11th-hour legislating that (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) should, on the procedural basis alone, throw out, even if it's without making a judgment on the merits of the issue."

Senate Bill 730 was introduced in February 2003 as legislation dealing with prevailing wages, but was recently rewritten to address child-custody disputes in cases where the divorced custodial parent -- in most cases, the mother -- wants to move to another city or state with the children.

Eisendrath credits the state Supreme Court decision handed down in April with making it possible for his situation to be revisited.

In August 2003, Eisendrath's ex-wife moved to San Luis Obispo with their two sons and her new husband after an appellate court directed a Superior Court judge to overturn his previous ruling denying her right to move. Under the original ruling, she was free to move if she transferred primary custody to Eisendrath.

In June of this year, that same appellate court ruled in Eisendrath's favor and remanded his case to Superior Court, where he expects "the best interests" of his children to be given paramount consideration when it is reconsidered later this month.

Feminist groups like the California Women's Law Center hope that passage of SB 730 heads off judicial rulings like that which occurred when Gary LaMusga sued to prevent his wife from moving their children to Ohio, and what is likely to result in the Eisendrath case thanks to the state Supreme Court's decision.

"Particularly when you're looking at custodial families headed by women, many of them are living in poverty and relocation is vital to their economic well-being," said Marci Fukuroda, of the Los Angeles-based group. "There should be a presumption that custodial families, like other families, can relocate."

SB 730 is scheduled to be heard Aug. 17 in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, and Burton, D-San Francisco, defended both the bill and the gut-and-amend procedure.

"This bill simply re-establishes the long recognized rights of custodial parents to move in order to take advantage of employment or educational opportunities," Burton's spokesman, Dave Sebeck, said. "The language has been out there for a couple of months and since we're going back to a system that was already in place ... it doesn't seem to require months of debate."

The administration met with Eisendrath and fathers'-rights advocate Michael Robinson on Tuesday, but declined to comment on whether Schwarzenegger -- a Republican -- would sign SB 730 if it passed the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

The current legislative session is scheduled to end in early September, and if the bill fails to gain approval by then, it would have to be re-introduced when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

-- David M. Drucker, (916) 442-5096