Divorce and the Forced Separation of Children from Their Parents

Parents have the natural right to be with their own children, unless they are guilty of some egregious act. . . . Stealing children from their own parents has historically been considered one of the most inhuman acts of tyrannical dictators. . . . Slave owners sold the children of their own slaves to other men. Today we are appalled by knowledge of such inhumanity.Bai Macfarlane, Mary’s Advocates1 What would you do if I came along in the street and took your children from you? You would do everything physically in your power to defend your children. You would probably injure me and maybe even kill me to protect your own flesh and blood. And yet fathers are somehow supposed to walk away.Matt O’Connor, Fathers For Justice2 The rights of parents to their children are generally regarded as inviolable. The very idea of forcibly separating children from parents who have done nothing legally wrong immediately evokes feelings of deep revulsion among most people. That any government should be able to do this also elicits feelings of anger and fear. It is no accident that such practices are associated with totalitarian regimes. “The right to one’s own children . . . is perhaps the most basic individual right,” writes Susan Shell, “so basic we hardly think of it.” Yet Shell elides sound statements of principle with common misconceptions of fact. “No known society treats the question of who may properly call a child his or her own as simply . . . a matter to be decided entirely politically as one might distribute land or wealth,” she states. No known government, however brutal or tyrannical, has ever denied, in fact or principle, the fundamental claim of parents to their children. . . . A government that distributed children randomly . . . could not be other than tyrannical. . . . A government that paid no regard to the claims of biological parenthood would be unacceptable to all but the most fanatical of egalitarian or communitarian zealots.3 A
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