"We have a Civil Right to be parents."
an essay by John Murtari, Group Coordinator, AKidsRight.Org
In 21st Century America many believe all our Civil Rights have been recognized. To mention a few: freedom of speech and religion, personal liberty, equal treatment for women and people of color. All foundations of a healthy society. But what about the security of family, the right of parents to raise and nurture their own children?
When my son Domenic was born I'd never thought about Family Rights. I had a two-parent family. None of my friends had been in a custody battle. I assumed I'd be able to share the same love and attention on my son as my parents did with me. The painful experience of a divorce taught me that I was very wrong.
I discovered, as have many parents, that if my relationship with my child is challenged by a former spouse or even a social worker, my child and I have no right to family. A trial may occur, but there will be no jury of my peers. A lone judge will decide what's in the "best interest" of my child. This could include limited or no contact with a loving parent for an entire childhood.
I've come to believe we have a Civil Right to be presumed FIT & EQUAL parents to our children, unless you are convicted in a criminal court of being a demonstrated threat to your kids. Good, average, and poor parents are all FIT & EQUAL parents.
Why? Because one foundation of morality is the supremacy of individual conscience - what many know as "let your conscience be your guide." What more natural obligation does any parent have than to care for their own kids? To be present in their lives in the many roles that only a parent can fill.
A second precept says any law which stops us from acting according to a "well formed" conscience is immoral. Is it any wonder parents and children unjustly separated find it one of the most painful and disruptive experiences of their lives?
While it is difficult to compare Civil Rights; what would you find more disturbing: being told to sit in the back of the bus, not being allowed to vote, or ordered to no longer hug the child you love?
Fit parents should decide what's in the best interest of their child. Some think a distinction should be made between good, average, and poor parents. But how can we make a single determination in a multifaceted and dynamic relationship? Like most of us I have mixed feelings about what my parents chose for me. Times I knew they made mistakes, times when I would have preferred one over the other. I saw our relationship change as I matured, but we all grew together as family through good times and bad.
Only the bad parent should be excluded, one who threatens the safety of their child with malintent. Society justly intervenes for those who seek to destroy the relationship. There would be no potential for growth. This would be a serious crime prosecuted in a criminal court.
In the vast majority of cases parents would be free to establish parenting time as they desire. While negotiating a custom schedule, a default standard would alternate physical custody on a weekly basis. Both parents would share legal custody and would alternate "tie breaker" authority on an annual basis. What would all this mean?
A single judge acting alone could not issue an order that destroys a family. The animosity and terrible waste of resources that goes into Family Court battles about which parent is "better" would be eliminated. Mediation services would be more effective when dealing with equal parents. Children would benefit from regular contact with both parents. Community resources could be better focused on identifying and prosecuting the few bad parents that exist and protecting children.
If we look through our history, the recognition of basic Civil Rights has resulted in some disruption and change -- but overall they have strengthened our society. Our nation has seen an explosion of well- intentioned Family Law in the last 40 years. It is now time for a Federal Family Rights Act that will recognize and protect our ability to raise and nurture our own children.