Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why Do Legislators Hate Single Parents?

Governments supervise everything. Most of us accept it. Every time someone gets a paper cut, bills get drafted and laws get passed in an effort to prevent it from ever happening again.

Since pain and suffering are a part of the human condition and not necessarily an indication that the government failed to do its job, I cannot help but wonder at what point the government will look at a situation and conclude it is outside their jurisdiction. Or perhaps, as President Obama put it "above my pay grade."

I have generally felt that that parental discretion was something that legislators of every political philosophy could respect. After all, most people are parents and resent it when their in-laws second guess their parenting decisions, never mind the government.

Unfortunately, new legislation would dramatically expand the state's authority to monitor parenting decisions and forever change the current deference given to parents. HB 2421 proposes to give a person who is not the parent of the child the right to petition for visitation with your child if the non-parent believes the child is harmed by not seeing them.

Imagine there is someone in your life that currently spends a lot of time with you and your children. That person might be a relative or simply a close family friend. Then, something happens that changes your relationship with that person. Perhaps your sibling gets a divorce and the relationship with their former spouse changes. Perhaps you learn something about the person that destroys your trust. Perhaps something happens that makes the relationship too painful to continue. It could be a million things. But whatever it is, you decide that it is best for you and your children that your interactions with that person become infrequent or perhaps nonexistent.

If you are old-fashioned like me, you might believe that it is not only a parental prerogative but even an obligation.

However, if HB 2421 becomes law, the person you no longer wish to have a close relationship with could ask the court to force you to let them see your child. The result would be the equivalent of a "parenting plan", except it would include someone who is not a parent. Even if visitation were ultimately denied, you would be forced to explain your decision in open court where public records would result.

Under current law, a court's determination of what is in a child's best interest is irrelevant until the parent's of the child have been found to be unfit. This would radically alter that and allow a court to overrule a parent's decision regardless of the parent's fitness.

Perhaps the most egregious part of this bill arbitrarily targets single-parents by prohibiting such a petition if the child's two parents live together with the child and agree that visitation should not be granted. Apparently, some legislators believe that if your spouse dies or leaves that the remaining parent loses their ability to make good decisions for their kids.

To be fair, we can all imagine a scenario in which parents would cut off certain relationships for reasons that we don't understand or even disagree with. And it is tragic when children are used as pawns by adults. But once again, if we want our children and grandchildren to be able to talk about freedom in the present tense, the government must accept that there are some issues outside its jurisdiction.

Note: I know if I do not clarify one point I am going to get a lot of "fan" email. So for the record, I do not really think the sponsors of this bill hate single parents. I just think the bill has misplaced priorities that create bad precedent for all parents and treat single parents like second class parents.


Joseph Backholm
Executive Director
Family Policy Institute of Washington

1 comment:

  1. I hate it when they think they can control my kids.