Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

the judicial war on marriage and fatherhood

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 11, 2010 | In Reviews

When you sign a contract-- to take a job, or buy a car, or sell a house-- you should feel secure. As long as you have read and understood the document, and you know that you can fulfill your responsibilities, you can be confident that the other party will do his part as well. Even if he is not a trustworthy partner, once his signature is on the dotted line he has no choice. If necessary, the courts will help you to enforce the contract.

Imagine a society in which the law did not enforce contracts. It would quickly descend into chaos. Bills would not be paid; deals could not be made. Business would grind to a halt. Neighbors would battle with neighbors in a perpetual, Hobbesian struggle of all against all. That's why, even in corrupt regimes, the law enforces contracts.

In America today, however, the law does not enforce the most important contract of all: the marital bond. On the contrary, the courts will throw their support toward the spouse who wants to break the contract, allowing divorce on demand, breaking up a household and tearing children away from their parents, even over the objections of a faithful spouse who wants to preserve the family. 

Taken Into Custody, by Stephen Baskerville, is a revealing, frightening book about (as the subtitle puts it) "the war against fatherhood, marriage, and the family." The author explains how, in response to the urgings of feminists that women must be protected, the courts have turned against fathers. A married man can be taken from his own home, ordered to stay away from his own children, compelled to pay expenses that he cannot control, slapped with a restraining order-- all without any plausible evidence that he has done anything wrong!

Does that seem implausible? It did to me. Yet Baskerville provides the evidence. Once a woman declares her interest in leaving her husband, our legal system provides her with every advantage-- provided that she does not relent in her determination to punish the father of her children. A small army of lawyers, social workers, and family-court officials will mobilize to protect her-- whether or not there is any evidence of a threat. The courts will relax standards of evidence, making it easier for her to claim that her husband is a danger to their children and perhaps to society. The same coalition will form once again to demand heavy alimony payments-- whether or not the estranged husband can afford them. If he drops behind in these payments, the man is vilified as a "deadbeat dad," and the legal system turns against him with renewed ferocity. He may be unable to find a job, to rent an apartment, to keep his own wages. He has become an outlaw. And again, this can all happen without any substantial evidence of wrongdoing.

You are skeptical? So was I. Ten years ago, as a candidate for political office, I agreed to speak with a group devoted to "fathers' rights." To be honest, I did not feel sympathetic to these men when I entered the meeting room. If they were so concerned about their children, I reasoned, they shouldn't have left their wives.

Then my eyes were opened. These men had not left their wives; their wives had left them. They had fought to keep their families together, to no avail. They desperately wanted to fulfill their obligations as fathers, but the courts would not allow it. They felt angry, betrayed, and helpless. Within an hour they had my wholehearted support.

Sometimes a family breaks down because a man betrays or abuses his wife. When that happens, the law should protect the woman and the children, and punish the offender. But the law should not presume the man's guilt; the courts should not operate on the assumption that a father is a danger to his children.

Above all, the legal system should work to preserve-- not sunder-- the marital bond. With the acceptance of "no-fault" divorce, our legal system has done just the opposite. Baskerville demonstrates convincingly that our courts are biased not only against fathers and husbands, but also against intact marriages. He observes: 

What Frederick Douglas once observed of the slave power's menacing expansion throughout the political system can now be seen in the cancerous spread of the divorce regime: It is "advancing, poisoning, corrupting, and perverting the institutions of the country, growing more and more haughty, imperious, and exacting."

This is a disturbing book, but an important one. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Retired01 - Nov. 29, 2017 2:49 PM ET USA

    If you ignore the letter of the law, you are not giving the example of obeying the letter of the law. Thus, if the head of an organization ignores the law, how can he expect his subordinates to obey the law? This follows from Managing 101--the introductory course in any school of management.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 15, 2010 11:40 PM ET USA

    US constitution says states cannot infringe on obligations of contracts. Catholics contracting marriage choose: Spouses guard fidelity; tend to mutual material perfection; tend to spiritual perfection; live together; and tend to the material & spiritual good of children. Innocent spouse MAY have right to separate–ONLY with decree “not contrary to divine law” preventing future evils to innocent spouse and children. The civil court can't make that interpretation (can.1153,1692).

  • Posted by: Eagle - Jun. 12, 2010 11:00 PM ET USA

    I've been doing divorce work as a part of my general law practice for over 33 years in SW Michigan and N Indiana. I can comfortably say that there is, usually, no gender bias where I practice. The deeper issue is whether "no fault" divorce should return to "fault", and whether an updated form of common law marriage should be enacted to restore responsibility and stability when children are born to "unmarried couples, i.e., those whose union was not legally solemnized.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Jun. 11, 2010 10:58 PM ET USA

    The destruction of a family is a tragedy. The destruction of a million is a statistic.