We can no longer ignore how taxpayers' money is incentivizing divorce and creating children who never or seldom "engage" (Obama's word) with their fathers. We can no longer ignore the government's complicity in the predictable social costs that result from more than 17 million children growing up without their fathers. Fatherless boys and girls are much more likely to run away, abuse drugs, get pregnant, drop out of school, commit suicide or end up in jail.
The root of the family court evil is the redefinition of a legal doctrine called the Best Interests of the Child. This phrase originally meant the presumption that courts should generally stay out of family decisions because, as the Supreme Court wrote in 1979, "natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interests of their children."
Some states say "best interests" and some say "best interest," but it means the same thing. That's just a buzzword to conceal the transfer of parental rights to judges.
This phrase is now used as an affirmative grant of power to family court judges to overrule parents on all child-related issues. Three things are wrong with the current interpretation of Best Interests of the Child.
First, it is contrary to the rule of law by giving judges extraordinary discretion to enforce their own prejudices and to micro-manage lives. They punish parents for things that were never written down as crimes or offenses.
Second, the "best interests" standard undermines parental rights. Instead of saying that parents are the final authorities, as the family unit was understood for centuries, it allows judges to make routine child-rearing decisions.
Third, courts have no competence to determine a child's best interests, so they rely on poorly trained evaluators who make unscientific recommendations about custody and visitation. There is rarely any evidence that a court-defined schedule is better than joint child custody.
Reform should get family courts out of the practice of pitting parents against each other, entertaining criminal accusations without evidence, assessing onerous support payments, sending dads to debtors' prison and appointing so-called "experts" to make parenting decisions. Instead, the courts should protect the rights of both parents.
In past Father's Day messages, Obama has blamed fathers for abandoning their responsibilities, but this year's message had no such comment. Perhaps Obama has learned that many fathers are locked out of their rights and responsibilities by family courts.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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