Back to Children's Rights and Family Law Reform

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Why do we remove fit parents from the lives of children every day?

Is it because the Courts have remained stuck in outmoded thoughts or is it because we have a current system of law that punishes fit parents for no wrong doing?

A single question that has yet to be answered by any legislature nationally, yet society has for years cried about the loss of fathers from the lives of the nation's children. A much talked about national problem that needs to be addressed by the individual states by the updating of their laws that deal with how the courts handle post divorce custody issues within the family. This area of law has gone through many changes over the course of time and I think that it is best that we take a brief look at the historical perspectives that have transformed over time to better understand what has happened and why we need to rethink our approaches

A Brief History and Some Influences

In the early part of the twentieth century, fathers were presumed to have "ownership" of their children based on the Common Law principles of that time. During this time, women and children were "chattel" of the male head of household. As the Suffragette movement took hold in this country and woman were given the vote and recognized as more than an object for ownership by the male, shifts happened within the thinking and attitudes towards females having custody of the child should there be a breakup of the family unit. With the adoption of the "tender years" doctrine, and later the "primary caregiver" doctrine, custody laws overwhelmingly began to favor the mother. A far distance from past thinking that had carried through until the early 20th Century.

As the Civil Rights Movement gained strength and eventual acceptance, the courts began to strike down these doctrines in favor of equal protection statutes, but the attitudes of the courts continued to favor one parent over the other, usually the mother. This attitude is supported in the statics that have remained constant over the past 20 years and show that the custody awards have continued at a rate of 85% towards the female, even with dramatic increases in female employment that have taken place since the 1970's.

Lost and often forgotten is the impact that "No-Fault Divorce" has had on the family makeup of this country. The first of these laws in this nation took effect January of 1970 when then-Governor Ronald Reagan signed California's no-fault divorce law. I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Peter W. Schramm of the Ashbrook Center about this briefly. He conveyed that Reagan during his Presidency came to regret his decision in signing and supporting that legislation. President Reagan felt that he had hastened the destruction of the American family by doing so. ~ Ray R. Lautenschlager, President National Organization for Parental Equality
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