Phyllis Schlafly

On Father's Day we will again hear paeans of praise about the importance of fathers. This year, we will also hear extra rhetoric from those who argue that we need a federal Marriage Amendment because children need parents of both sexes, a father and a mother.

But the elephant in the parlor is the millions of children of divorced parents, who need their father just as much as children in intact marriages, if not more. Maintaining the father's love and authority is crucial when a child's life is turned upside down by divorce.

The silence of the pro-family movement and of the churches is deafening. Don't they care about the need for fathers of the 21.5 million children under age 21 who the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2002 are living with only one of their parents?

The vast majority of those 21.5 million children are living without their fathers. Citing a principle called the "best interest of the child," family courts award sole or primary custody of most children of divorced parents to mothers, thereby reducing fathers to occasional visitation and zero authority.

Americans have always assumed that parents share decision-making authority because only parents can determine what is in the best interest of their own children. Chief Justice Warren Burger, writing in 1979 for the majority in Parham v. J.R., stated that ever since Blackstone (who wrote in 1765), the law "has recognized that natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interests of their children."

As recently as 2000, the Supreme Court in Troxel v. Granville reaffirmed this principle and upheld the "presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children." The Troxel case rejected the argument that a judge could supersede a fit parent's judgment about his or her child's "best interest." These principles are just as important when parents are separated or divorced, although the Supreme Court has never heard a divorce case. Exploiting this vacuum in higher authority, family courts have taken away from divorced parents the power to determine the best interest of their own children.

Family courts are the practical application of Hillary Clinton's slogan that "it takes a village (i.e., the government, the schools, the courts) to raise a child." But "best interest of the child" is a totally subjective concept since there is no societal consensus on what is best for every child.

Phyllis Schlafly

Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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