A very wise man, I think it was me, once said, "If you want something screwed up, let the government do it. If you want something totally destroyed, give it to the lawyers."
Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was me.
In most cases this little tidbit of reality doesn't much matter. After all, even when some shyster figures out a way to extort millions from McDonalds because a binging fat-body couldn't keep his fingers off the happy meals, it doesn't really alter the course of the average persons day. Those who want to eat that stuff won't mind the extra nickel per hundredweight of lipids such frivolity costs them.
It's a different matter when it comes to families and children.
It is in one way ironic that we put troubled families into the hands of lawyers; the one profession certain to turn any manageable conflict into a war zone. One the other hand, a wise man once said if you want something destroyed....
Courtrooms, the only places on the planet other than congress where cockroaches aren't afraid of the light, have become the demolition derby for families in trouble. They are shooting galleries, where children and fathers are driven past women and lawyers like pop-up targets. The fathers have lawyers, too. They are the ones standing out of the line of fire urging their clients to fight till the legal bills are maxed out.
This is not just a scenario endemic to divorce. It is not just the best we can do with a system that means well. It is a bad system that does bad things for all the wrong reasons. The most common of reasons being money.
There is no profit for lawyers in amicable divorces. They don't generate much more than filing fees and court costs. And parents that share parenting and expenses after the divorce are pretty useless as well. They keep their kids intact, but the legal profession gets zilch.
So the family law system, owned and operated by attorneys, has evolved into an adversarial theater of the damned, where turpitude and mendaciousness are considered good breeding; where children and fathers are sold out as a matter of routine.
Court officials are quick to tell anyone interested that they act in "the best interest of the children." They even practice saying it with lofty idealism.
Don't buy it. The courts are about two things. Money and winning, in that order. They even have it rigged so that we usually know the winner before the gavel ever hits the wood. The only real mystery is the length of the fight and the final bill.
Children? Their best interest is the first thing to go. That is what happens when you turn them into property and use them as bargaining chips along with houses, cars and bank accounts.
It is clear that it would be in the best interest of the child to maintain close, loving contact with both parents regardless of the marriages collapse; to let the parenting continue even as the marriage ends. Courts could make that the default objective if they were interested. Instead what usually happens is a restraining order, almost always on Daddy. The courts rubber stamp them without proof or corroboration.
In one legal maneuver, the court, supposedly acting in the best interest of the child, suddenly and completely severs that child's connection with one it its parents. For children, especially young ones, this can affect them emotionally as though the parent had died.
It is all part of the strategy to win; the best interest of the case, as it were. Last one to file a restraining order is a rotten egg. Since women file the great majority of divorces, and the courts are biased heavily toward them, the statistical probability is that part of the proceedings will involve Daddy being vilified and removed from the home with no proof at all that he has done anything to deserve it.
That strategy is critical to gaining actual custody of the children at the end of the proceedings. The children are worth a sizable cut of Daddy's future income. And as his income grows, so will the checks. Mommy knows it, too. In many modern circles, the firstborn in a marriage is now called "the insurance policy." It might seem clear that it was women, not men, that coined that little cutie, though my money is on the lawyers.
Best interest of the child? Sure.
If it stopped there, it would only be a minor catastrophe, corrected once the divorce was final and feuding parents had time to grieve and move on.
The legal system has remedies for that unprofitable direction, though.
Let's be really clear about what child custody means. It translates quite literally to ownership. It isn't just the ability to control when and where Dad and children see each other and how much he will pay Mom for the privilege of doing so. Managing conservators have the unilateral power to undermine visitation and the father-child bond with impunity. The courts give it to them.
They have the daily opportunity, and quite frequently the desire, to assassinate the character of the absent father; to twist the child's memory and perceptions to fit with those of the embittered mother.
Over time, fathers go from being Daddy to being a visitor to being estranged to being a memory, and probably not a good one. It's not uncommon. If you are over six or seven you know people to which this, or something like it, has happened.
And the next time you hear someone bemoan that Dad doesn't even try to spend time with the kids since the divorce, consider what he might be dealing with when he does.
Sara Jane: "Daddy, did you beat mommy up?"
Dad: "No, sweetie, I never did anything like that!"
Sara Jane: "Mommy said you did and that is why you had to leave."
Dad: "Well, honey, I never did."
Sara Jane: "Daddy?"
Dad: "Yes, sweetie?"
Sara Jane: "Are you going to beat me up, too?"
He can't fight this. He doesn't have enough time with her to give that kind of corrective balance to his daughters life. The courts have made sure of it. The ex knows it and uses it.
It is easy to tell Dad that he just needs to man up and rough it through seeing the minds of his children poisoned with lies and hatred against him. But of course, if we do that then we are no more really concerned with the best interest of the child than the courts or some of the mothers. For in the conversation you just read, it is the child who suffers most. She is being condemned to a worldview of men and fathers that will stain each and every relationship she has for the rest of her life.
Mommy may be a lost cause, but she shouldn't be.
Restructuring a family is a delicate and difficult matter. But it will remain much more difficult than is necessary until we restructure the corrupt, arrogant and destructive family courts that currently have the responsibility for doing so.
There is no panacea. But we should start by removing incentives for people to steal children and family assets and make off with them. False allegations in family court to obtain restraining orders should result in prison terms. And judges should be removed from the bench for severing a parent-child relationships without a proven reason.
It's child abuse, pure and simple.
If these measures were taken and joint custody were the preferred, enforced objectives of the courts, they would actually be acting in the best interest of the children.
The divorce rate would drop like the Dow Jones.