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Massachusetts' Family 'Justice'











By Stephen Baskerville, Ph.D
January 15, 2008

A commonplace of the American Revolution held that citizens must have a love for liberty and a willingness to sacrifice and fight for it. Otherwise, no paper constitution alone can ever preserve their freedom.

Today, it is becoming equally commonplace that this spirit of liberty is leaving Americans, that we are becoming �a nation of sheep,� as Judge Andrew Napolitano puts it in a new book, who acquiesce in the progressive abrogation of our Constitution and liberty.

This is plausibly attributed to several factors: mass affluence, cultural decadence, the loss of religious faith. But I believe one major factor has been seriously overlooked: the breakdown of the family and the growth of divorce. Moreover, this is not some nebulous �cultural� contributor that somehow saps Americans� willingness to defend their freedom. The cause-and-effect is directly demonstrable. The reason is that we are now raising our children according to the principles of tyranny.

Divorce sends many harmful messages to children and future citizens: that we can break vows we make to God and others; that family members may be discarded at will. But among the most destructive are about the role of government: that government is their de facto parent that may exercise unlimited power (including remove and criminalize their real parent) merely by claiming to act for their greater good.

While feminists push divorce-on-demand as a �civil liberty,� in practice divorce has become our society�s most authoritarian institution.

Some 80% of divorces are unilateral: the action of one spouse alone and over the objection of the other. One spouse�s �freedom� to leave a freely contracted marriage, therefore, means tyranny over the other spouse in forcibly separating him from his home, property, and most seriously, his children. And while marriage is an agreement freely entered into by both parties, with only a nominal role for the government, unilateral divorce must be enforced by the coercive machinery of the state. Otherwise, the involuntary divorced spouse may continue to claim the right to live in the common home, to enjoy the common property, and above all, to parent the common children. These must be curtailed, or at least controlled, by the state.

This entails a massive extension of government power � and straight into precisely the realm from which its exclusion until now virtually defines freedom and limited government: the realm of private life.

The moment either spouse files for divorce, even if the other is legally unimpeachable, the government takes control of the children, who become effectively wards of the state. Unauthorized contact by a parent becomes a crime, and the excluded parent can be arrested and incarcerated without trial through a variety of other means that by-pass constitutional due process protections: domestic violence accusations, child abuse accusations, inability to pay �child support,� even inability to pay attorneys� fees.

Legal jargon and clich�s like �divorce,� �custody battle,� and �child support� have led Americans to acquiesce in this massive intrusion of state power over their freedom. We don�t say that the government arbitrarily took away someone�s children; we say he �lost custody.� We don�t say a legally innocent citizen was interrogated by government agents over how he lives his private life; we say there was a �custody battle.� We don�t say a citizen was incarcerated without trial or charge for debt he could not possibly pay and did nothing to incur; we say he �didn�t pay his child support.� These clich�s and jargon inure us to tyranny.

But worst of all, we are raising generations of children to believe that police and jails exist not to protect us from dangerous criminals but to keep away one of their parents, and that the criminal justice apparatus may be marshaled against family members who have committed no legal infraction.


Using instruments of public criminal justice to punish private hurts turns the family into government-occupied territory. The children experience family life not as a place of love, cooperation, compromise, trust, and forgiveness. Instead they receive a firsthand lesson in tyranny. Empowered by the state and functioning essentially as a government official, the custodial parent can issue orders to the non-custodial parent, undermine his authority with the children, dictate the terms of his access to them, talk to and about him contemptuously and condescendingly in the presence of the children as if he were himself a naughty child � all with the backing of state officials.

Eventually the children understand that the force keeping away one of their parents is the police, who are the guarantors of the custodial parent�s supremacy. Thus the message the children receive about both the family and the state is that they are dictatorships, ruled by an arbitrary power which can be marshaled against private enemies and even family members for personal grievances. If a loved one disagrees with us or hurts our feelings or is simply no longer desired, there is no need for forgiveness because a telephone call will have him removed, and the police will make sure he stays away. And if the police can be used to arrest Dad because he does something Mom doesn�t like, what will they do to me if I do something Mom doesn�t like?

After witnessing this dictatorship over the non-custodial parent, the children may then experience it themselves. Lacking firm authority that is in any sense moral, as well as any effective restraints on her behavior, the custodial parent now exercises unchecked power over the children as well, a relationship that becomes increasingly strained and acrimonious as the children grow older, less credulous, and more rebellious. As the children react adversely to this destruction of their home and father, or as the cute and cuddly children become rebellious adolescents, they can be turned over to state agencies by their mothers, as large numbers now are. If more vigorous instruments are required, various arms of the state � psychotherapists, police, and penal institutions � can be marshaled against the children as well. Thus the drugging and institutionalization of children in foster care, psychiatric hospitals, juvenile detention facilities, and jails that has become increasingly familiar.

In July 2001, The Progressive magazine detailed how �parents� are now turning their troublesome teenagers whom they cannot control over to the police. Overwhelmingly, though the politically correct article does not point this out, these parents are single mothers. In the single-mother home, �Wait till your father gets home,� has been replaced by, �I can turn you over to Social Services.�

On the other hand, perhaps someday they can commandeer the police and jails against family members with whom they have differences or against anyone who hurts their feelings. While many children are materially impoverished by family breakdown, in other cases the systematic bribery dispensed by the divorce industry extends to the children themselves, who may be rewarded for their cooperation with material opulence, forcibly extracted from their father and used to corrupt his children and give them too a stake in his plunder and exile.

It is not difficult to see that this is a highly unhealthy system to have in a free society. In fact, the logic is reminiscent of another system of domestic dictatorship that once tried unsuccessfully to co-exist with free civil government. Politically, the most powerful argument against slavery � and what eventually did more than any other to bring about the realization of how threatening it was to democratic freedom � was less its physical cruelty than its moral degeneracy: the tyrannical habits it encouraged in the slaveholder, the servile ones it fostered in the slave, and the moral degradation it engendered in both. Such dispositions were said to be incompatible with the kind of republican virtue required for free self-government.

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Abolitionist Charles Sumner�s warning of slavery�s impact on the moral development of white children growing up in slave societies was at least as alarming as concerns about cruelty to black ones. �Their hearts, while yet tender with childhood, are necessarily hardened by this conduct, and their subsequent lives perhaps bear enduring testimony to this legalized uncharitableness,� he wrote. �They are unable to eradicate it from their natures�. Their characters are debased, and they become less fit for the magnanimous duties of a good citizen.� Something similar may be seen today in the children of the divorce regime. No people can remain free who harbor within themselves a system of dictatorship or raise their children according to its principles.

� 2008 Stephen Baskerville - All Rights Reserved

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Stephen Baskerville holds a PhD from the London School of Economics and is president of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children and ssistant professor of government at Patrick Henry College his book, Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family (Cumberland House, 2007).

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Divorce sends many harmful messages to children and future citizens: that we can break vows we make to God and others; that family members may be discarded at will.