When Politics Enter the Family Law Courtroom
By: Howard Iken, Managing Partner
The last two years have altered all of society. The primary issues include the pandemic, the ongoing, bitter political rhetoric, and racial divisions. As if that is not enough, now we are divided by links to foreign nationality and allegiance to perceived sides in distant wars. These issues have permeated all aspects of society. As a prominent law firm, we have seen more than our share of how these issues invaded the courtroom and how they are used as weapons in family law cases. One ongoing controversy we could never have predicted is the issue of covid vaccinations and how it interacts with parenting. Parents are fighting it out with every possible permutation: should kids get vaccinated, should unvaccinated parents have their parenting time affected, and what information do we use to guide our decisions? I ran across a highly well-thought-out court decision by a court in Canada. The decision is lengthy, informative, and enjoyable to read. The court decision does not give the ultimate answers, but it shows the problematic job judges have to weigh parents’ arguments that want the best for their children. I will provide a link to the document for those who like to read in-depth. Here are some interesting questions and observations of the judge in an argument on whether the children at issue will be required to get a covid vaccination:
This odious trend is rapidly corrupting modern social discourse: Ridicule and stigmatize your opponent as a person, rather than dealing with the ideas they want to talk about.
It seems to be working for politicians.
But is this really something we want to tolerate in a court system where parental conduct and beliefs are irrelevant except as they impact on a parent’s ability to meet the needs of a child?
Have we reached the stage where parental rights are going to be decided based on what political party you belong to?
We’re seeing more and more of this type of intolerance, vilification and dismissive character assassination in family court. Presumably we’re seeing it inside the courtroom because it’s rampant outside the courtroom. It now appears to be socially acceptable to denounce, punish and banish anyone who doesn’t agree with you.
Most if not all parents, like all of society, are immersed in the potpourri of political messaging screaming at us from all angles. Every time we open a computer, turn on the TV, Radio, or pick up something to read, we see political messaging intended to persuade, vilify, stigmatize, or trivialize ideas that used to be considered valid opinions. On the subject of Covid, we have been hearing strongly worded opinions disguised as fact for what seems like a hundred years. Medical decisions of the past were understandable and, more often than not, reflected common sense. We used to argue using the opinions of pediatric doctors on subjects that were within the lifetime experience of our family court judges. That has changed. Now, our arguments on Covid vaccinations rest on the supposed expertise of government administrators, television doctors, and announced platforms of political parties. Facebook has become the definitive news source of the uninformed, and it has provided us links and citations to a complete set of unreliable “experts” who derived their opinion from other articles, other unreliable experts, and a multitude of made-up facts.
As unreliable as our facts are, we do not present them and rest on our laurels. Instead, we attack individuals, in this case, parents, who are portrayed as crazy anti-vaxxers, deranged political maniacs, or as people undesirable to society. As attorneys, we learned the principle to “attack the issue, not the person.” That wisdom has now flown out the door, and our primary evidence of being correct is the asserted fact that one parent has lost their mind and should be placed in a padded cell. Judges are bombarded by non-objective evidence, links to opinions, citations to so-called fact-checkers, and a body of evidence based on no more than the latest newscast.
We are at a significant turning point where future decisions will be based on the ability of one parent to paint the other parent as crazy, unfit, or as an adherent to a fringe political belief. The courts are staffed by human beings subject to the same news cycle and therefore are vulnerable to the same misinformation and scare tactics.
I hope the next year leads us out of the turbulence of the last two years. More importantly, I hope parents start to think a bit more about the arguments they present and how that will affect their children in the future. Our children are listening to us, and whatever we say will indeed have an effect ten or twenty years from now. On the issue of vaccinations, that is no definite answer. As an educated person that follows a wide variety of news sources, I cannot discern what the best court of action is for my child. A survey of the expert opinions, government sources, and news commentators prove there is no absolutely reliable information to base upon one’s decision. But in the interim, we need to lower the heat, be more thoughtful, and stop basing our parenting on faulty information. More importantly, we need to get back to only presenting verifiable facts and stop vilifying parents with differing opinions. I think about things my parent said in the very distant past. When you are in the mood to attack the parent of your child as being crazy, left or right-wing, or as a fringe theorist, you need to be aware that your child will remember what you did. That memory will last a very long time after you are gone.
For those that desire to read this fascinating court opinion, click here.