When states revised their family-law statutes in the 1970s, the "best interest of the child" became disconnected from parents' decisions, and family courts assumed the discretion to decide the best interest of children of divorced and unmarried parents.
The notion that persons other than parents should decide what is in a child's best interest is illustrated by the slogan "It takes a village to raise a child." Those who use that slogan understand "village" to mean government courts, government schools or government social workers.
The trouble with the best-interest rule is that it is totally subjective -- it's a matter of individual opinion. Parents make hundreds of different decisions, and should have the right to make their decisions even if they contravene the self-appointed experts.
Whether the decision is big (such as where to go to church or school) or small (such as playing baseball or soccer), there is no objective way to say which is "best."
Since judges are supposed to base their decisions on evidence presented in open court, and there is no objective basis for deciding thousands of questions involved in raising a child, judges call on the testimony of expert witnesses. A big industry has grown up of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, custody evaluators, and counselors who are eager to collect fees for giving their opinions.
Having opinions produced by persons with academic degrees is a way to make subjective and arbitrary judgments appear objective. With the volume of cases coming through family courts, judges can evade responsibility for controversial decisions by rubber-stamping opinions of these court-appointed experts.
Scientific American Mind published a scholarly paper in October 2005 by three noted psychologists who explained that the practice of allowing courts to be de facto decision makers "is legally, morally and scientifically wrong. ... Parents should determine their children's lives after separation, just as when they are married. ... Parents, not judges or mental health professionals, are the best experts on their own children."
It's time to call a halt to the practice of letting family court judges make decisions that are rightfully the prerogative of parents.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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