Stephen Baskerville, Cumberland House, 352 pages, $24.95
For whatever reason, social conservatives focus considerable political effort on abortion, gay rights, and obscenity, but pay scant attention to divorce. Perhaps they think that ship has sailed for good, whereas other battles still offer winnable stakes. Perhaps too few look at our “family courts” and see a culture war; or perhaps too many lack the conviction to fight it. And when conservatives do target divorce, rather than lobby for legal reform of the “no-fault” divorce system, or changes in the way courts award custody or child support, they have preferred to employ the tools of ministry, treating divorce primarily as a moral problem rather than a political one; its attendant social evils as a consequence of sin, not of bad policy.
This is a grave mistake, says Stephen Baskerville, professor of government at Patrick Henry College and president of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children. In his startling new book, Taken into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family, he asserts not only that reforming America’s divorce paradigm deserves a far higher priority among conservative culture warriors, but that our divorce courts today are agents of radical sexual ideology, occasions of shameless graft, and instruments for the expansion of governmental power at the expense of Constitutional rights.
As unique as it is disturbing, Taken into Custody strikes notes from all over the conservative/libertarian spectrum to compose a sort of hybrid thesis: that big government and anti-father feminism have teamed up to promote divorce, tear apart families, pauperize and criminalize fathers, and swell the power of the state.
The marriage contract today is a legal anomaly, the author muses, in that our government directs nearly all its efforts and resources toward dissolving rather than — as with other contracts — enforcing it. In what he calls the “totalitarian regime of involuntary divorce,” unfaithful parties are not punished, and faithful ones not rewarded. In a perverse twist, it is the faithful party — the one seeking to hold the marriage together — on whom the guilt and suspicion are cast.
With the advent of no-fault divorce (before which divorces required cause, and fault could be assigned proportionately), “the fault that was ostensibly thrown out the front door of divorce proceedings re-entered through the back.” Working from the “therapeutic” (read: morally relativistic) premise that both parties must be equally to blame — which is to say, not at all to blame — for a marriage’s failure, divorce courts begin with an “automatic outcome” and then set out to find or manufacture evidence to support it.
How is that evidence obtained? Via “extensive and intrusive governmental instruments whose sole purpose is intervention in families.” Having quit the marriage-enforcement business, government has turned the full weight of its resources and coercive powers to the divorce-enforcement business.
The main area in which government brings to bear those resources, and the red thread of Baskerville’s book, is in assigning custody of children. With two-thirds of divorces initiated by women — thereby immediately casting the man as the “defendant” — and with courts overwhelmingly biased toward mothers already (in a paradoxical inversion of feminist doctrine, women are held both to be and not to be more naturally suited to nurturing and child-rearing), in practice the custody process typically amounts to a “power grab” by which fathers are forcibly separated from their children. The children, for whose benefit the process ostensibly exists, are then used as leverage by the prying state and as trophies by the custodial mother.
The fathers may have committed no crime; they may in fact be more dedicated than the mother to the marital stability that’s in their kids’ best interest, but no matter. The mother is rewarded for courageously having taken the “initiative” in the divorce — for having invited, that is, the power of the state to arbitrate in the most private areas of their family life. Maneuvered by skilled lawyers, abetted by social-science “experts” steeped in anti-father ideology and myths, and followed by media more interested in soap-opera storylines than justice, she can by the very hint of a suggestion of an accusation — of physical or sexual abuse, for example, or mental or emotional cruelty — rob a man of his marriage, his children, and his livelihood.
This is not the only disquieting contention Baskerville makes, but it is the central one: that right under our noses, massive systematic injustice is being visited upon fathers, threatening the very fundaments of family, society, and democracy. This thesis seems at first incredible, and initially I couldn’t decide whether it’s because the author doesn’t convince, or because I didn’t want to be convinced.
It’s not a reviewer’s placeto connect every dot of an author’s argument — especially for a book that, despite its modest size, is richly presented, containing nearly a thousand end notes and not a single uneconomical sentence. But I do want to touch on a few satellite points that attend Baskerville’s thesis, by way of giving a well-rounded representation of it.
This ongoing travesty is rooted in two main causes, which build upon each other: a big-bucks “entitlement industry” that grows ever-larger and more voracious, and the influence of radical feminist ideas and power.
According to Baskerville, the business of divorce is part of a bloated bureaucracy, a $100 billion industry in which judges “dispense patronage” to psychological “experts,” lawyers feed on the bank accounts of divorcing couples, social workers wet their beaks in welfare cash, and courts send out bounty hunters to bleed dry blameless but unlucky dads. And, naturally, the more each party prospers, the greater the demand for even bigger money: more divorces requiring more expert witnesses to demonize more fathers, and more intrusive measures to coerce their behaviors and attach their wages; more taxpayer money to fund more programs for counseling and sheltering more unhappy wives (in what he calls “one-stop divorce shops”); more state agencies (the “child protection racket”) to insert governmental authority ever more deeply into the sacrosanct privacy of the family.
So follow the money we certainly can. But Baskerville believes that we might never have gotten to this point without the influence of an anti-father strain of feminism, representing a “degeneration of feminist idealism” that first aims to make political what is personal (by casting conflict between the sexes in the historical context of political oppression and the movement for liberation) and, secondly, is motivated by “a specific animus against men and marriage.”
True: As regards divorce and child custody, there is some dissension within radical feminist ranks. Some would prefer to see the man left with the children, burdened with domestic chores, while the woman goes off free to pursue whatever empowers her. Others likewise fear that winning the battle for power in the household only sets back the fight for power in society. But the majority has happily accepted and run with what seems to be a paradox: on the one hand, rejecting outright any notion that a woman “belongs” at home with her children, but in divorce court asserting that children belong at home with their mother. Similarly, one notes the paradox in feminists’ claimed desire to have more domestically “involved” fathers, and their sense of entitlement to be the “center of their kids’ universes.”
Why do they smooth over the contradiction? Most of all, power, says Baskerville. By scooping up the children and the money, divorcées scores a tag-team victory — along with the courts and their experts, trained in feminist therapeutic precepts — over men. The current divorce paradigm also dovetails nicely, he says, with other planks in their ideological platform:
- Deep-rooted antagonism toward men and fatherhood. As Dale O’Leary and others have shown, anger and resentment toward their own fathers is a common thread among lesbians and radical feminists.
- Long-term replacement of the family with a system of government caretakers. “It takes a village,” after all.
- Conscription of children as fellow soldiers in the battle against patriarchal tradition. Hence the modern movement naming “children’s rights” as a corollary to women’s rights.
- The separation of the political interests of men and women. This is essential to preserving the model of ongoing political conflict between the sexes.
The larger society allows this to occur, and politicians enable it, Baskerville says, because of a carefully constructed set of myths that steers our sympathies toward the mother and casts suspicion on the dad. “He must have done something,” we say to ourselves. We all know the stereotypical stories of the abusive or “deadbeat” dad.
Baskerville dismisses the bulk of these notions as pure myth, asserting that most women seek divorces for reasons related to emotional fulfillment, not physical abuse, either of herself or their children. (He cites statistics here showing, among other things, that children are most likely to be abused by a single mother or by her live-in boyfriend; tragically, then, courts are in fact removing kids from their natural protectors and abetting the real predators.) There already exist laws to punish violent criminals, but these laws — and the due process that goes with them — are being ignored in favor of the secretive, unjust, and cruelly punitive family courts, which work with politicians, agenda-driven experts, and the media to “foment hysteria” about a non-existent epidemic of child and spousal abuse, and then prosecute fathers — not with criminal statutes but restraining orders, onerous child support, and character assassination.
Similarly, the divorce industry enjoys the full cooperation of politicians and the media in stalking “deadbeat dads.” But he too is a “mythical creature,” Baskerville claims, “created by those paid to pursue him.” The “national demonology” of the deadbeat is a useful fable, providing spotlight-seeking pols with a “risk-free target” for tough-sounding talk and filling state coffers with federal money (after all, they need programs to track down and punish all those wicked dads, and propaganda campaigns to educate the public about their wickedness). In other words, they get a cut of the booty — an “entitlement coerced from the involuntarily divorced.”
Baskerville pointedly concedes that there must be some true “deadbeats,” just as there are some true abusers. But in both cases the numbers are small. Most dads pay up, and those who can’t have a good reason (he notes that they tend to be the type of unfortunate fellows whom the government would ordinarily be spending money to help, not impoverish — alcoholics and drug addicts, the homeless and mentally ill, and those with minimal education and job skills). And millions of others eke out a living in the fringes: fighting to stay out of jail while they watch their reputations and credit ratings crater.
The great irony here, Baskerville says, is that “child support” is advertised as a way to make fathers “be responsible” for their children, yet it is coerced from them only after they have been forbidden by the state to exercise that responsibility in the ordinary way: by being fathers — protecting and providing for their sons and daughters on a daily basis in a common household. Or as Baskerville puts it, child support is about “making fathers finance the filching of their kids.”
In addition to lamenting their inattentionto divorce reform, Baskerville specially indicts social conservatives for unwittingly perpetuating such myths. Making the “sentimental assumption” that male promiscuity is the nub of all fault, fatherhood groups and religious-right leaders focus the large part of their efforts on exhorting fathers to live up to their spousal and parental responsibilities — ignoring the plight of fathers whom the courts have forbidden to do just that, and implicitly reinforcing the common misconception that most divorce stems from the husband’s sins, and most fatherlessness from paternal cowardice.
Small wonder, then, that many feminist groups, “cynically invoking the need for fathers,” lend their support to organizations and initiatives that on the surface promote paternal involvement, but which in reality only serve the system that keeps dads from their kids. Baskerville calculates, for example, that government and faith-based “fatherhood” programs actually direct a majority of their resources toward the child-support collection industry. They don’t want his presence; they just want his money.
Baskerville winds up his book — and locates his thesis — deep in the heart of a quasi-totalitarian state, by offering an eccentric but thought-provoking take on the now-settled fact that children of divorce exhibit more problem behaviors than those from intact families:
The family becomes in effect government-occupied territory. The children experience family life not as a nursery of cooperation, compromise, trust and forgiveness. Instead they receive a firsthand lesson in tyranny. Backed by the courts, police, and jails, the custodial parent now “calls the shots” alone — issuing orders and instructions to the non-custodial parent, undermining his authority with the children, dictating the terms of his access to them, talking about him contemptuously and condescendingly . . . all with the blessing and backing of the government.
Having thus become “wards of a police state,” he says, forced to live in and be formed by an environment of gross injustice, how can children not develop a “chronic disrespect for authority”?
In the occupied family of forced divorce, parental and political authority are unnaturally intertwined, a process that results in both kinds of authority being simultaneously abused and weakened. Discipline and civility are the first casualties, since it is difficult to teach children to say “please” and “thank you” when we simply issue orders (or court orders) to Dad. . . .
This peaks in adolescence, when natural rebelliousness coincides with the realization of how one or both parents have abused their authority by setting their own desires above the needs of their children. . . . It is this adversarial relationship imposed on the children towards virtually every form of authority that I believe best accounts for the horrifying statistics on juvenile emotional and social problems that correlate more strongly with divorce and single-parent households than any other factor.
Baskerville stresses that change won’t come through the efforts of government or non-profits, but by militant popular activism: nothing less than a “rebellion” that radically re-establishes the family as the primary rival to government power, not a building block for it. Only then can we hope to achieve particular strategic goals: legal limits on no-fault divorce, based on a judicial re-commitment to enforcing the marital contract rather than shredding it; a preference for awarding joint custody, which would both “dismantle” the custody/child-support industry and likely reduce the divorce rate (since it removes the motive for one spouse to wield custody as an instrument of power); and greater legal protection for parents rights, which, Baskerville surmises, might require nothing less than a Constitutional amendment.
That last prescription underscores the gravity and urgency that permeate Taken into Custody. Indeed, it sometimes crosses the line into stridency, such as in the author’s comparisons of family courts to Nazis, Stalin, the Eastern Bloc, the Weimar Republic; his references to Orwell, Marxism, “human sacrifice,” and so forth. But Baskerville himself seems aware of the gap between his claims and popular understanding — even the understanding of pro-family, limited-government conservatives who are usually sharp about such things. He realizes that the evidence he has marshaled is either flat “mistaken,” or else it “amounts to a reign of terror.”
If Baskerville is mistaken, then he may just need a little time off, somewhere out of the sun. But if he’s correct — and his book compels — then we have been blithely sitting on the sidelines of a critical civil rights struggle; perhaps the most critical of all.
Todd M. Aglialoro is the editor for Sophia Institute Press and a columnist and blogger for www.InsideCatholic.com.
Readers have left 10 comments.
Some worthy points, perhaps.
The move to assign children to women in divorces predates the feminist and no-fault movements. The plight of fathers has certainly been part of the mainstream culture for at least a generation. I’m thinking of the tearjerker Kramer Versus Kramer as one instance of a divorced father getting a very sympathetic treatment, only to get shafted in court.
I don’t find it particularly surprising that two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women. Wives are three times more likely to be on the receiving end of physical abuse than husbands.
I would hope that Baskerville’s book is more than an ideology in search of a cause. It would seem healthy family dynamics are at risk from a number of factors, including those foisted on us by conservatives (materialism, the Fox network, etc.) as well as liberals. We also have roadblocks like substance abuse, military service, a mobile society of job transfers and suburban sprawl, and numerous other factors that popped into consideration at the same time as feminists.
I get nervous when people bandy about “quasi-totalitarian state” and like terms. Rather than call names, it would serve your argument better to describe what you know and see and let other reserve judgment on who it looks like and what kind of ideology is functioning.
I suspect that much of the ill Baskerville describes is more an error of oversight, rather than all-out malice. Lawyers, social workers, and others do society a great service and they truly strive to improve the lot in life for clients. And some are simply greedy or power-hungry. And we have enough conservative Republican examples of those qualities in business and politics, don’t we?
Quote(2) The Four Pillars of Society – Two Down, Two Locked in a Death St
Historically, there are four pillars of society:
1. Smallest numbers at any given time, longest duration: the ‘family’ or ‘clan’
2. A quasi-monopoly on legitimate violence, codified laws, medium time scale: the government, city/state
3. Large scope, long lived, hierarchical organization, ultimate moral authority: The ‘church’ – associations of co-religionists bound to religious authorities.
4. Largest scope, shortest relevant time scale, most pervasive: the market.
Each of these has strengths and weaknesses, and interacting, they have all ebbed and flowed, occasionally absorbed each other. When the family absorbs the state, nepotism is a major problem and blood feuds spill over into wars. When the state pretends to the church, religion is co-opted. When religion absorbs the state, the church starts acting like an Emperor. When religion absorbs the market, the priests become auctioneers… just as bad. When the market absorbs religion, idol makers sell their wares on every corner.
In reality, we need all four in some rough balance. They can’t be allowed to run over each other. Why are the statist liberals and the libertarians at each other’s throats these days? Because the family and church are in such retreat that the market and government are the only two options – and some people want one to absorb the other, or vice versa.
What we need is both of them to retreat far far from where they are. We see people reminiscing for the Mafia, for goodness sakes, that’s how starved they are for an effective family… let alone a potent church, from which excommunication means something temporally significant.
Quote(3) Domestic violence myths
Wives are three times more likely to be on the receiving end of physical abuse than husbands.
This is untrue. See:
The truth about violence in the home is that it’s pretty much a 50-50 thing. Respected social scientists Murray A. Straus and David Gelles have been publishing research for years that shows the standard Only-Men-Batter story–probably visible on a billboard near you — just doesn’t match reality.
Women and men attack each other about equally in the home. Solid research now shows that women begin the physical fighting in their homes about half the time. Equally solid research shows that mothers are responsible for 65 per cent of physical abuse of children.
Although the words “domestic” violence are commonly used, some commentators say that a better description would be “shack-up” violence, because violence is most common, especially where children are involved where the woman is living with a boy friend. In a piece in the Weekly Standard last December by John A. Barnes, he cited four studies which show “that the incidence of abuse was an astounding 33 times higher in homes where the mother was cohabiting with an unrelated boyfriend than in a stable nuclear family.”
Furthermore, of the women who initiate divorce, the majority are for reasons other than violence or physical abuse. See:
The most common reason women give for leaving their husbands is “mental cruelty.” When legal grounds for divorce are stated, about half report they have been emotionally abused. But the mental cruelty they describe is rarely the result of their husband’s efforts to drive them crazy. It is usually husbands being indifferent, failing to communicate and demonstrating other forms of neglect.
Another reason for divorce reported almost as much as mental cruelty is “neglect” itself. These include both emotional abandonment and physical abandonment. Husbands that work away from the home, sometimes leaving their wives alone for weeks at a time, fall into this category.
When all forms of spousal neglect are grouped together, we find that it is far ahead of all the other reasons combined that women leave men. Surprisingly few women divorce because of physical abuse, infidelity, alcoholism, criminal behavior, fraud, or other serious grounds. In fact, I find myself bewildered by women in serious physical danger refusing to leave men that threaten their safety.
Quote(4) There is another reason why divorce is not mentioned…
There is a reason why divorce is acceptable – and that is the political figures conservatives like to support are themselves divorced – some of them more than once. There is even a name for the sort of lady they marry the second time around: “trophy wife”, a ringing endorsement of marriage, isn’t it?
It was a joke that all the Republicans candidates had two three wives each, except for the Mormon. On the other hand Democrats tended to be still married to the first wife – even randy Bill Clinton held on to his marriage and tried to patch it up.
When a political coalition can take as a hero Newt Gingrich, who divorced a wife while she was recuperating from cancer surgery – and then cheatdd on his new wife, you can see why theys do not want to talk about divorce.
Quote(5) Thanks, Jeff Culbreath, for setting the record straight
In my own experience with my ex-husband, our marriage was always threatened by other women who were more than willing to leave their husbands and disrupt their families in order to chase mine. I get extremely nervous when folks try to blame one gender over the other. Intrapersonal violence, affairs and addictions happen across the genders and all socio-economic levels. As an upper-middle class woman, I have met abusive, narcissistic men and women, in all walks of life. Thanks again, Jeff, for setting the record straight.
This was extremely well written. Thank you for not mincing words.
Quote(7) Anarchy Ahead: The Harvesting of American Families
I spent 3 years travelling the country shooting a documentary about the breakdown of the American Family, and the effect family court had on the behavioral outcomes of children. The discoveries were chilling.
When I realized the film would take too long to finish and that the world needed the information NOW, I wrote the book “Every Single Girl’s Guide to Her Future Husband’s Last Divorce.” My intent is to educate future second wives, have them protect their a$$ets, and cut off the revenue stream to the system. Once we eliminate the “squeeze” or “magic fountain” from the ways the system is fed, it will die.
Dr. Baskerville’s points should be read and re-read carefully, because inside his book are many ways to resolve the current travesty of justice called family court.
Quote(8) “No Fault” Not the Problem, But Slavery
As for domestic violence hysteria, See: Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – mediaradar.org
This article and some of the comments remind me of the devil’s trick to make Eve QUESTION what the LORD told her in the Garden of Eden when he said, “you will not surely die” (if you eat the forbidden fruit).
Or of the current Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi’s response when asked recently on The View, why she took impeachment off the table, “IF some can show evidence of a crime…” (by the executive branch), as if she were unaware of Representative Kucinich’s Thirty-five articles of impeachment.
The reviewer and some above are questioning whether Baskerville has exaggerated in “Taken Into Custody”. What he describes can be hard to accept for those unaffected by the totalitarian family court system.
As an exiled, but FIT and CARING father whose three kids were brainwashed against me, I was forced into bankruptcy, had my drivers license suspended, my career derailed, and spent a total of nine months in jail for civil disobedience to illegal, uncontitutional sole custody orders by which the state of Virginia stole my kids, exactly as Stephen describes in his book, I assure you every word he speaks is true and accurate, with absolutely no exaggerations. I lived and still suffer from what he describes, and I know hundreds of other victimized parents, mostly fathers, whose fundamental right to be a parent has been stripped from them by this evil family law system.
God’s first Institution: Family, can best be saved by firmly establishing in family courts the same principle cited in our Declaration of Independence by which African-Americans, women, and others have been elevated: EQUALITY, a self-evident, unalienable right.
Just as the slave trade and economy existed by denial of racial equality, the divorce/family destruction industry and economy are based on denial of gender equalily in most family dissolutions. Both involve human trafficking at the outset.
Though fit mothers are occasionally victims of state-sponsored child abductions, the vast majority of sole custody orders are issued against fit fathers, who receive the shock and awe treatment by judge imposters from the moment they step into their secretive courtrooms. The system purposely tilts the scales of justice by denial of due processs in order to create and perpetuate family law litigation, and thus profits for the divorce industry.
The shock and awe practices of our family courts described in “Taken Into Custody” are the real terrorist threat to our nation. WAKE UP AND SMELL THE FASCISM.
Quote(9) “Taken Into Custody” An Understatement?
Thank you for reviewing such a powerful book so positively.
To toss a thought (or virtual hat) into the ring, what if, as my heading states, Dr.Baskerville has touched upon a situation even more insidious and perfidious than what he presents in his book.
To argue this I will only address one major area, massive numbers of men forced into what many define as a type of sepeku or form of forced ritual suicide. What if the number quoted on the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) is correct, nearly 20,000 more men commit suicide than women each year with the vast majority in the “parent ages”?
We are surpassing the deaths of men per year in Vietnam during that war by multipliers. In the last five years it would appear that these govermental and judicial policies may have caused the deaths of 20,000 of our best, brightest, healthiest men who were most committed to family. It takes a severe trauma and continued deprivitation to drive men in those numbers to take their own lives in despondency. If they did not care and had not been centered on their families and children, they would just walk away, indifferent.
The figures at the AAS website page http://www.suicidology.org/associations/1045/files/2005StatesGENDER.pdf show consistently men commit suicide in nearly every state at the rate of 5 men to every woman. When you look at other pages with age breakdowns and causes determined, you find that it is the men in the family rearing age and the issues are “relationship”. If these figures were reversed by gender we would see a media feeding frenzy beyond anything seen since Pearl Harbor.
What if we have certain judges and attorneys whose actions consistently account for the majority of these deaths? After all, 20% of the fishermen catch 80% of the fish.
Would it be a surprise to discover new social programs now providing major funding to the same feminist social workers paid to help break up the families for counseling the grieving children who have lost their father forever? This is a system to make money at every turn. At the cost of 10,000 fathers a year.
Then an even more frightening thought is our full compliment of family law judges in this country have become so indifferent to the deaths of men that we have developed a new aberration for the West, Gendercide for profit?
Dr. Baskerville’s “Taken Into Custody” as with most groundbreaking books, introducing a new, yet disturbingly apparent, set of facts and suppositions, has only touched on the surface of individual and societal destruction wrought by these radical social experiments. These social experiments are steered exclusively by elements most hostile to our families, children, and women, the most radical male hating feminists and the most demagogic of our politicians.
The safest scenario for a woman is in a marriage relationship with the father of her children. It is the safest and healthiest for the children as well. It seems so simple.