This post was somewhat inspired by this post over at A Voice For Men. Mostly the phrase used, which is one I remember from my government class in college, “Your rights end where my nose begins.” The AVM post calls this a universal truth, but its not. It is the most basic concept of the US Constitution. If you read through the founding documents of the USA, you will find that the overriding theme is that no person’s rights supersedes anyone else’s rights. We fought a war over this discrepancy, and amended the Constitution to guarantee these rights to everyone. This is no small thing. I do not know of another case in the world where two factions in the same country fought over another group of people, and it was not for the purpose of deciding who controls this third group, but one fought to retain control, while the other fought to free them. Usually wars for freedom are started by the those who are oppressed, and they may or may not gain the support of others in the population. In my mind the USA’s largest character flaw as a nation was complimented by its unique characteristic of seeking freedom for everyone. This is what has made the USA the greatest nation in the world in almost every way measured over the last century or more. This is not really a for the sake of argument. I know that there is some national pride buried in those comments, and I do not intend to suggest that other nations don’t have things to be very proud of, but is undeniable that the USA has had the greatest impact on the world over the last century, and in most cases it has done so with this same character, even when the results have not been what everyone has desired. I will reserve judgement on the last couple of decades, history will be written by our children, but I doubt that history will show an USA that has the same character that has made it great. As I say this, I do so believing that how we treat our own citizens is probably directly reflected in our policies in the world, and how we treat our own citizens is where we get to the topic of my post.
Most people move through life oblivious to the rights they have, because no one has ever truly interfered with their rights. Those who are victims of crime, know all too well that the rights we cherish rely very much on the respect of others to maintain. Our rights are not enforceable when someone bigger and stronger wants their way, unless there are enough other people who value your rights present to make sure your rights aren’t impugned. This is something most of us just don’t think about, nor do we want to think about it. The reality of this is scary, because there are always people bigger and stronger than us. Even if you are the biggest, strongest, baddest mother fucker around, it only takes a couple people deciding to challenge you together to turn the tables. I think this is why the great American action stars are so compelling. We see in them, the hope that we can fight for ourselves and others. Most people don’t know or understand what their rights really are, and I am not talking about the government granted rights, but the Constitutionally guaranteed rights. Everyone needs to go back and read the Constitution and its Amendments about once a year. I have put some links below for people to check out. They all have unedited versions of the Constitution to read, and some have commentaries. I did not select them for the commentaries, so read them if you like, and make your own judgments.
We live in a society that has unprecedented freedoms. Almost nowhere else in the world can people move as freely as we do. Not only do we have the freedom to do so, but we have the means to do so. We can get in our car and go thousands of miles and have no contact with anyone from the government. We can change jobs, or quit jobs as we see fit. Our homes are ours, and the government has large obstacles to prevent them from intruding our homes. We can make and break contracts without government involvement. This is all a matter of course, and we do it everyday. The government isn’t involved until someone’s rights are not being recognized. Under normal circumstances, we cannot sign away our Constitutionally guaranteed rights. Those portions of contracts are automatically voided. This is a side effect of the thirteenth amendment. It prohibits indentured servitude, so signing away your rights puts you into a position that when evaluated is equivocated to indentured servitude. These are protections we don’t think about, but are there when we need them. The most heinous Federal crime you can commit is not murder but to take away someone’s civil rights.
In everyday life in the USA, there are no classes. No one is given preference, officially, by the government by their birth right. We have social and economic classes created by the individual’s circumstances. These do not translate to different rights. There can be an argument made that these people have power from their position that effectively gives them preference, and that is true and unavoidable to some degree. The key is that it is not codified into the law that there are people who will receive special treatment by the government.
Divorce Creates Classes
This post isn’t so much about the law as it is about the realities of what happens in divorce. I have posted before about how one parent becomes second class during divorce with children. They lose many rights, or maybe more aptly put, their rights are superseded by those of a higher class. The more I think about things, I truly believe that there are 3 classes created in divorce as things go right now. There are the children in the first class, and then the custodial parent in the second class, and the non-custodial parent in the third class. Children are not given any responsibilities in the process, and their words and feelings are cherished beyond that of anyone else. The custodial parent is granted great freedom to care for the children. They are generally given the benefit of the doubt in parenting decisions, and allowed to ignore the rights of the non-custodial parent. They don’t have a right to the non-custodial parents income, but as the custodian of the children they are granted full access and control of a portion of the custodial parents income. I say they are second class, because their status as the custodian of the children grants them these rights. The non-custodial parent has few rights, and not just with the children. They live under constant threat of severe penalties if the court decides they are not paying their share. There is no guarantee that their time with the children will not be interfered with, and it takes too long through the courts to enforce your rights to participate in decision making. The court is likely to review decisions made, and not give one shit about whether you were within your rights to veto a decision, but instead measure the decision to decide if it were in conflict with the principle of “The Best Interest of the Child.” If it is not in conflict with this principle, then you will not receive any relief from the court for your rights being ignored. Generally the custodial parent will not change once it is decided by the court, so the custodial parent feels confident in their ability to make any decisions that they want. The court can change things if their is a material change in circumstance, and this is something that is not clearly defined, so the court gets to decide when they will hear arguments. Once they hear arguments, they can change their mind. If the custodial parent changes, then the second class becomes the third and the third becomes the second. Instantly one parent will be granted all the rights of the first class, and the other parent will be reduced to a wallet for the children to draw out of for their “needs.”
First Class: The Best Interest of the Children
Children are granted new rights when divorce comes. These aren’t necessarily things that they will recognize themselves, because one parent is the custodian of the rights. If there is any dispute with the parents over the kids, then they are given a voice. There are professionals/experts that the court employs to speak for the children or rather their best interest. Their voice is filtered by these people, so the real power that the children receive is granted to this third party. This doesn’t mean they aren’t heard, but it means that what they say is filtered, and the parents have little room to question these things. The truth doesn’t matter. The “Best Interest of the Children” is really the first class, not the children. You might say in the end, the children represent the concept, but they are actually the fourth class, because in the end they don’t matter to the process as people. The “Best Interest of the Children” on the other hand is the states stake in the decision. The state uses this to decide who gets the power on their behalf, and can change their mind when it suits them. Because it is this philosophical concept represented by a third party, it can be initiated without either parent asking for it. Once the third party is involved, they are involved until the children are grown. This means that every parenting decision is possibly in question. All it takes if for one of the children or the other parent to make them aware of the decision, and they feel obliged to weigh in. The primary thing in play is child support. This is based on the legal principle that the children have a right to a portion of the parents income. This is a right that I find nowhere outside of family law. The children gain this right when the parents aren’t married. Its really just a legal bait and switch to justify the confiscating of one person’s income for the benefit of another person. This is very different than taxes that are to benefit the community.
Second Class: Custodial Parent
This is the one that gets the rewards. The gain the right to control a chunk of the other parents income. They are given the benefit of the doubt in all child rearing decisions. They are allowed to alter schedules without consulting the other parent, and the worst that will happen is the court will tell them to not do that anymore. The custodial parent has very few consequences for not living up to their part of the bargain. The court doesn’t really want to hear the arguments between the parents, so they have a tendency to just give the custodial parent broad sweeping authority over the kids for expediency’s sake. Sadly the court stepped in to begin with and took away parental rights from one parent, and then they don’t want to deal with the consequences. It would be nice if parental rights weren’t stepped on for the sake of practicality. What is worse is these decisions are made by the court while the parents are at their worst. They generally haven’t had a chance to get their feet under them, and the end result is the animosity between the parents is prolonged, and rarely has a chance to heal. It is only natural that if one parent has all the financial resources available and the majority of the time with the children that they will make most of the decisions regarding the children. Its not right. The Supreme Court of the United States has upheld that being married or not has no effect on your parental rights, so who are these family courts to decide to how to divvy up the parental rights for expediency. Who are they to decide that one parent has lost their protections, their civil rights.
Third Class: Non-Custodial Parent
This class has very few enforceable rights. The rights haven’t been removed in so many words, but in practicality. If there has been a court appointed representative for “The Best Interest of the Children,” you will be questioned in every decision. If the other parent wants to question your decisions, then surely a court appointed representative will be appointed. Even though the terms have changed to parenting time, the reality has not changed. The children have one parent and home, and they visit the other parent. In some cases a grandparent or uncle may have more contact with the children than the non-custodial parent. It is fair for all involved to shame this class, because they must have done something wrong. People who have not been through the system seem to think this is logical, and half the people who have been through the system profit from such thinking. This leaves somewhat less than a quarter of the adults out there who want to correct this opinion. That is a pretty small bunch to change things, and they tend to be a bunch who are being bounced around like a pinball trying to have a significant role in their children’s lives. There is a lot going against this class. They are similar to other government created lower classes. They have some control over their lives, but not control over their resources. The only hope for those in this class is that something happens, and the pendulum swings in their direction and they get to swap places with the custodial parent, then they will have the illusion of freedom again. The state has imposed itself on their family, and they know that even though the ability to make decisions for their family may be theirs if they become the custodial parent, the state or court has taken over their family and has the authority to make whatever decision they think is best. Courts won’t hear disputes between married parents. They throw them out simply because they are married. Having children and not being married is potentially handing 18+ years to the state to decide for you. Most non-custodial parents lives are paused. They can’t afford to do the things they dreamed about. They have to be ready to respond to what the custodial parent decides. They learn to cherish the time they spend babysitting their own children, unless the custodial parent has turned the kids against them. The only hope they have is that when the children are grown, they are returned to the full status of citizen of the USA.
Fourth Class: The Children
The children have no real say. The court appointed experts choose what the court hears about the children. Neither parent has a right to add to the court record for the children. The principle seems fair, except this third party in the end represents the state. They are there to ensure that the state does not incur costs due to this case. The children’s opinions may be heard, but they don’t become a part of the case, unless the expert decides to add it to the case. The children never had many rights to begin with. Until you are a full citizen of the USA, you don’t have many rights. The children inherit their rights from their parents. If the parents are married, they benefit from both parents income and affection. The parents share the duties as they see fit, and the children receive what the parents decide is right. The richest parents in the world may choose to force the kids to earn everything, because they believe that this will make them stronger adults. If both parents don’t agree, then there is some form of negotiation involved between the parents. Sometimes it is as simple as one parent makes them work for things, and the other gives them things. It just plays out in the politics of the parents bedroom. The kids belong at the bottom of the classes, but this system has turned what little rights they had into a legal principle that is divorced from the real children involved. Children should be granted the right to shelter, food, education, and medical care. These should be the parents responsibility to provide. The children do not have a right to luxuries that the parents are able to provide. This is where the legal concepts that are applied are dead wrong. They children have no rights to the parents lifestyle. They are simply beneficiaries of that lifestyle to the level that the parents want to provide it. This principle doesn’t break down when parents aren’t married. The legal principle is used to extract money from one parent and give it to the other, but the other parent still has the freedom to determine just how much of this wealth will benefit the children. What the children lose in this case is the right to see both parents care for them and provide for them. the system has become so expedient as that the non-custodial parent providing through the parent is good enough. To lawyers this makes sense, but the children often walk away believing that only one parent buys them things, and provides for them. The other parent doesn’t do anything for them. This creates animosity that the child does not deserve to feel. The child is a victim of the system. Some say the child is the biggest victim, but I believe that the non-custodial parent is. The children lose few civil rights, but the non-custodial parent loses the right to the fruits of their own labor, and if they are unable to earn they are at the mercy of the court as to whether they will be held to account for the same amount every month. The children are made to pay by the animosity that is created in this winner takes all system. The court nearly guarantees that if one parent wants it all, then the children are robbed of the possibility of the parents having an acrimonious relationship.
How Do We Fix It
I think the court wants concrete fixes. They want things to be perfect. The current system gives them illusion of fixing something. Civil rights have been abandoned through the civil courts, and due process has been satisfied. On the surface at least. A court of law is required to take away someone’s civil rights, and the family court is is not a court of law. In most states it is defined as a court of equity. It is their job to satisfy issues that aren’t legal in nature, and to apply the law as best they can. Issues of property when in dispute. The only fix, and no its not perfect for everyone, but its fair. To protect the rights of both parents and the inferred rights of the children the time with the parents should be presumed 50/50 in all cases where the children are not at a real risk. Perception is not reality. We live in a country where a crime has to occur before we are punished, so if there is not a real risk based on facts to limit contact with a parent, then it shouldn’t happen. Time and money need to be separated. Required expenses for the children need to be split 50/50. There is no excuse for doing it any other way. The parents aren’t married, so their ability to pay should have no weight on who pays. Any other expenses are up to the parents to figure out. If the parents can’t agree to a schedule or one parent refuses to agree or abide to a schedule then the court should impose a standard schedule that gives each parent equal time with the children. Without money on the table, I don’t think for most parents, at least in the long haul, this will be an issue. The parents are free to agree to a schedule that is unequally split. The parent who has the kids more time is fully responsible for the extra expenses that this time creates. The children are the most valuable item. The court should stop presuming that parents can’t share custody if they don’t get along. Both care for the children, and if there weren’t a winner take all system in place, then they will figure out how to care for the children. If the children aren’t being cared for adequately, not to be confused with to parents abilities, then criminal proceedings should pursued, and if one parent is deemed the cause of that, then those parents can be tossed back into the old ideas that are essentially based on the idea of one parent abandoning the children to the other parent. Neither parents should ever have court orders forcing them to make payments to the other parent, simply for being a parent. If there are no real expenses that a parent has failed to pay for, then there should be no order to pay. The courts need to stop being practical and start dealing with the real world. Child support and primary custodianship create bastards, a thing that was reviled not that long ago, because the children often grew up with problems. Now it is the norm, and our children have the same problems.
- Find Law: U.S. Constitution
- National Archives: Constitution of the United States – Official
- National Constitution Center: Explore the Constitution
- Avalon Project: U.S. Constitution