Children should be able to divorce awful parents

Mike Royko

April 27, 1992|By Mike Royko FTCSO: Tribune Media Services

Some lawyers and social workers are worried because a kid in Florida is trying, in effect, to divorce his parents. They say that if he wins his lawsuit, it will set a terrifying precedent that will threaten the structure of American family life.

Fine. A lot of family lives in our society could use some threatening.

In many communities, the family courts can't keep up with the incredible volume of child abuse, neglect, indifference, abandonment and general stupidity.

Over in divorce court, they are swamped with vicious child-custody battles that seem to never end, as furious parents use their kids as weapons of revenge against each other.

So why should the kids be regarded as mute bystanders or pawns or property when they are the victims of all this adult idiocy?

In the Florida case, the parents are divorced. The father is an abusive drunk, the mother has been rapped several times for neglect. The child, now 11, has been in foster homes for more than two years.

Now he wants stability. He has asked to remain with his present foster family, and they want to adopt him.

So the boy's lawyer has asked the court to legally end the parent-child relationship.

The state social workers don't like the idea. They say that one of their priorities, besides protecting children, is reuniting families.

Ah, yes, reuniting families. That's always a priority. And I've written about many families that have been reunited. Unfortunately, the cases I've written about usually involve a child being dead or maimed after having been reunited with abusive or neglectful morons. There are so many such cases that I could probably write about nothing else for a year. But then I'd be too depressed to keep writing, and you'd be too depressed to keep reading.

The lawyers are concerned because they say the Florida case could lead to other kids suing to dump their parents because they were denied the latest Nike shoes or Ninja Turtle game.

If the lawyers really believe that, it doesn't say much for their own profession. Are there attorneys who would handle some brat's Ninja Turtle-deprivation case? Not likely, especially if the kid didn't have a fat retainer fee in his piggy bank. And are the lawyers saying there are judges who would take a frivolous suit seriously, and not toss it out as nonsense?

No, if the Florida boy wins his case -- and I hope he does -- what we'll probably see are other suits filed by kids who will be saying that they have had it with parents who are dopeheads, drunks, sadists; parents who don't know how to take care of children and are unwilling or incapable of learning. And that they've had it with social service agencies that don't provide social services.

One of the biggest scandals in this country is the failure of the legal system to protect neglected and abused kids from people who, through the simple process of a romp in the sack, have become parents.

There are supposed to be legal safeguards, but all too often they don't work.

We would like to have enough skilled social workers to track the abuse and neglect cases and to rescue the kids quickly. But we don't want to pay the taxes to hire the social workers. We'd like to be sure that each case is closely examined by a judge so that he can make the proper decision. But we don't want to pay the taxes needed to hire enough judges. We'd like to have enough family counselors to work with mopes who show promise of learning how to take care of their kids. But we don't want to pay the taxes to hire them. We'd like to have a system that doesn't have cracks through which so many kids fall. But we don't want to pay the cost of filling the cracks.

I'm sure there are all sorts of deep and complex legal principles involved here. Lawyers can easily find deep and complex legal principles in a parking meter ticket.

But it seems to me that what we're talking about is the principle of self-defense, which is pretty simple. If you are in danger, and the agents of the law aren't there to protect you, you have a right to defend yourself. Can anyone quarrel with that?

Well, the Florida boy is in danger of being reunited with either a father who has a history of being an abusive drunk, or a mother who has a history of abuse and neglect. The state, through its agencies and the courts, has had more than two years to resolve the boy's problems. It hasn't.

So now the boy is saying that if the state isn't willing or able to protect him, he's going to use the legal system to defend himself.

Why not? Every day, thousands of people turn to the courts with far less serious problems than this kid has.

And you can bet that if every kid in America had $10,000 in his piggy bank, you wouldn't hear many lawyers express grave concerns about legal precedents.

They'd be standing in line at the schoolyard.

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