More than any other factor, poverty is a function of the single parent household. Centers of sociological research, such as the University of Washington West Coast Poverty Center say that changes “in the structure of families over the past 40 years has likely contributed to higher poverty rates.” It seems that poverty is on the rise primarily because the two-parent household is in decline, and we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the state is implicated in this decline.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2009), the median income of two-parent families was $71,830 while the median income of male single-parent-families was $48,084 and female single-parent-families was $32,597. Since the family may be considered the most basic economic unit, and once was the center of economic activity in an era characterized by family-owned farms and businesses, then we might ask what has caused the erosion of the family. We might also ask about the prospects of further erosion and its implications for economic freedom as well as national prosperity; for as the United States has suffered an erosion of family, it has also suffered an unremarked economic and sociological demoralization – especially as the state has aggressively stepped in to “rescue” a growing number of single mothers.
To clarify the issue, I interviewed Professor Stephen Baskerville, author of a remarkable book titled Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family. According to Baskerville, today’s pauperization is not simply a case of impoverished mothers with children. Fathers are also being impoverished by the divorce system. “To the question of why so many ejected fathers are unemployed or penurious, this is not difficult to answer once one understands how the courts operate,” says Baskerville. “Once the children are separated from their fathers, neither the courts nor the bureaucracy have much incentive to ensure his continued solvency – indeed, a solvent father is a threat – so they can happily reduce him to penury. After all, a fresh supply of fathers is constantly being brought into the system.”
I asked Baskerville whether the issue wasn’t about deadbeat dads who refuse to support their children. Baskerville replied: “The stereotype of the deadbeat dad is almost entirely feminist propaganda. Most of these fathers have not abandoned their children. They have had their children stolen from them by the family courts.” Baskerville paints a picture of judicial and legal corruption where, typically, the father is ordered out of the home and becomes homeless. If the father refuses to spend large amounts of money on an expensive lawyer he is penalized with unreasonably high child support payments. It is a case of plunder, only it occurs under the color of law.
“A father can be ordered by a court to pay 70 percent, 80 percent or 90 percent … of his income in child support,” noted Baskerville. And if these fathers fall into debt and cannot pay, they are summarily jailed. “We have cases of fathers being jailed for up to ten years without trial,” said Baskerville. “And there is almost never a jury trial in cases of child support. The application of the law varies by jurisdiction…. What is especially dangerous about child support is not that the fathers have to pay astounding amounts…. It is effectively bribing the mother to divorce. What she gets out of this is tax free income. She gets a windfall, a tax-free windfall. In other words, you can raise your children as you choose and get paid for it.”
The breakdown of the family is thereby encouraged by a system that rewards one party and plunders another, bringing a great deal of business to lawyers. “It’s a massive problem,” says Baskerville, “involving 24 to 25 million children. And it is not surprising that the vast majority of divorces are filed by women. The usual reason is that the woman says she doesn’t feel loved.” What follows is something called “unilateral divorce.” Under this system marriage is not an enforceable contract even though the United States Constitution says that states cannot pass laws that abrogate the enforcement of contracts. The legal, sociological and economic implications are staggering. Marriage is now a contract that can be broken by either party on a whim, and the faithful party is subject to financial loss at the hands of the party that breaks the contract, with the help of lawyers and judges.
Is not contract law the basis of our economy? As the family unit is an economic unit, we cannot understate the opportunities for “legalized” robbery this presents. “They have opened the floodgates of plunder,” says Baskerville. “The woman has been empowered in alliance with the state … and the father is alone on the other side…. And yes, it does happen that a man who knows how to play the system can plunder the woman as well.” Thus marriage now comes to resemble game theory’s famous “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” in which the first party to break faith is the winner.
According to Baskerville there is a movement afoot that encourages women to accuse their husbands of domestic violence, even if none is taking place, and such accusations are part of a formula – taken as a means to an end. In these matters there is little to be said for due process. In practical terms it doesn’t exist. “Any man who marries is vulnerable to this action,” says Baskerville. And then the courts themselves are arbitrary: “Courts also do not hesitate to summon fathers so often that they lose their jobs and then jail them for being unemployed. It is not unusual for a father to be summoned to court hundreds of times.”
Under this system all wives are effectively married to the state, and all children are wards of the state even as every man is merely a guest in his own home – subject to immediate eviction at any time without due process of law. “The most direct threat to the family today is the divorce courts,” says Baskerville. They encourage divorce, which is overwhelmingly initiated by women, and “it is a formula for huge earnings for lawyers.” Furthermore, he says, nobody is fighting for fathers’ rights because “people don’t want to acknowledge something so big and evil is going on.”
In closing, Baskerville wants us to be honest. “If we truly believe our present divorce policy is appropriate, we should at least have the honesty to tell young people up front that marriage provides them with no protection against government seizure of their children and everything else they have. Let us inform them at the time of their marriage that even if they remain faithful to their vows, they can lose their children, their home, their savings and future earnings, their freedom, and even their lives.”