Text of a speech given by Murray Steinberg at the "National Cry For Children" 11/7/99.
AS A BOY GROWING UP IN TUSKEGEE, ALABAMA I would get chill bumps when I sang the Star Spangled Banner or when I said the Pledge of Allegance Allegiance. Well, I HAVE NOT YET GIVEN UP ON THIS COUNTRY, though many times when I have left the court house I have asked myself... WHAT COUNTRY CAN I MOVE TO?
NOW LET ME PAINT THIS PICTURE: You are a good law abiding citizen, pay all your bills on time, belong to a church or synagogue, been happily married for four years and have 2.5 children.
WHAT COUNTRY WOULD YOU BE LIVING IN AND WHAT YEAR WOULD IT BE IF... You were served a restraining order baring you from going in your own house or having any contact with your spouse and children. Where a court can terminate your fundamental rights or liberty interest to raise your children, without first showing a compelling state interest. Where children may be taken from parents by the SS (Social Services) simply on the basis of an anonymous phone call, alleging abuse or neglect. Where you may only see your children four days a month and then only under limited conditions or supervised by someone approved by the state. Where there is no requirement for "notice", no "right to a trial by jury", no "due process or equal protection of law." Where your bank account may be taken, your property ceased, your wages attached without your knowledge.
WHAT COUNTRY WOULD YOU BE IN IF... There is no "speedy trial" and it may take up to six months to get a court date. All private citizens are searched as they enter the court house. You are considered guilty until proven innocent. Where perjury is condoned. A court may order you to pay money you don't have, for something you did not need or request. And the court may order you to pay an "officer of the court" (attorney) for services you did not ask for or receive. You may be forced to work, sometimes more than one job, to pay an arbitrary amount the court determines. And if you don't pay what the Court orders, You may go to "debtor's prison".
WHAT COUNTRY ARE WE IN WHEN... There is no public input into the selection of judges. No recording devices or cameras are permitted in the court house. The public is excluded from the court room. Attorneys police themselves with strict confidentiality. Judges police themselves with strict confidentiality. Judges are not bound by a constitution, statute, or case law and are given discretion to make their own law. Judges do not have to explain their decisions. There is no appellate process for court decisions or for a grievance against a judge or lawyer.
WHAT COUNTRY ARE WE IN WHEN... You can go to jail for saying what you think, for talking too loudly, or for not doing exactly whatever the judge orders you to do.
WOULD YOU BE IN COMMUNIST RUSSIA in 1950?; COMMUNIST CHINA in 1960?; or NAZI GERMANY in 1940? NO, THE COUNTRY YOU WOULD BE IN IS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IN 1999!
THE # 1 PREDICTOR OF WHETHER A CHILD WILL BECOME A CHILD AT RISK OF GROWING UP WITH PROBLEMS IS not the color of his skin, not his ethnic background, not whether his family is wealthy or poor... but whether that child has a father in his or her life.
THE EFFECTS OF CHILDREN GROWING UP WITHOUT A FATHER ARE INDISPUTABLE:
VIOLENT CRIME: 85% of all youths incarcerated 60% of rapists, 72% of adolescent murderers, and 70% of the long-term prison population are persons raised in fatherless homes.
TOBACCO, ALCOHOL, AND DRUG USE: 75% of adolescent patients at chemical abuse centers reside in fatherless homes.
LOWER PERFORMANCE ON INTELLIGENCE TESTS: 71% of all high school dropouts reside primarily in fatherless homes.
OUT-OF-WEDLOCK BIRTHS AND TEEN PREGNANCY: 70% of teenage pregnancies are to girls raised in fatherless homes.
SUICIDE: 63% of youth suicides are by children residing in fatherless homes.
PHYSICAL ABUSE: 58% of child abuse occurs in fatherless homes.
HOMELESSNESS: 90% of homeless and runaway children come from fatherless homes.
OTHER CORRELATIONS WITH ABSENCE OF A FATHER: poverty, disease, lower socio-economic status, and more difficulty establishing relationships with peers.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, AMERICAN FATHERS ARE ON THE LIST OF "ENDANGERED SPECIES". We are experiencing legalized GENOCIDE of fathers in this country... and it has got to stop! Our government is doing nothing to promote the formation of or the preservation of marriage. CHILDREN NEED AND DESERVE EMOTIONAL AND FINANCIAL CHILD SUPPORT FROM TWO PARENTS!
It's dawned on me how many oxymorons there are in domestic law. You know an Oxymoron: A combination of words that are contradictory, that are incompatible or have inconsistent meaning. HERE ARE A FEW:
CUSTODY AND VISITATION WITH YOUR CHILD... We don't custody or visit our children, we parent them.
REASONABLE & LIBERAL VISITATION... Is neither reasonable or liberal. Where did anyone come up with the idea that 4 days a month is all a child needs with either parent?
NON-CUSTODIAL PARENT... I'm not a "non" anything, I'm a parent.
QUALITY TIME... You can not have "quality time" without quantity time!
GOOD ATTORNEY... When I am asked to recommend a good attorney, I say that is an oxymoron.
OFFICER... of the Court Yea, non commissioned officer.
DEADBEAT DAD... Deadbeats are not born, they are created by our government.
CHILD SUPPORT... Any over the actual cost is tax free alimony
SPOUSAL SUPPORT... Call it what it really is: Marriage license tax - $33 going in and $33,000 going out
COURT MEDIATOR... You can't be a neutral facilitator and work for the court
TEMPORARY ORDER... Temporary orders become permanent orders
PRIMARY CARETAKER... There is no such thing. When I care for my child I'm not secondary.
JOINT CUSTODY... God made me a joint custodial parent, the court made me a visitor.
SINGLE PARENT... Not unless he or she was never married.
All time favorites:
GENDER NEUTRAL... No such thing
"IN A CHILD'S BEST INTEREST"... Never
"IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD"... It takes two parents
IN CONCLUSION, let me say... This is still the greatest country in the world, with Liberty and Justice for ALL... THOSE WHO CAN AFFORD IT. We have the greatest legal system in the world... THE BEST MONEY CAN BUY. State Judicial boards are protecting judges; State Bars are protects attorneys; and nobody is protecting we the people.
LET ME REMIND YOU... Most laws don't give us rights and liberties, they take them way! We don't go to court to get our rights we go to court to lose them! (Raymond's Rule) A friend of mine Raymond Hagenbuch taught me that. And... God makes us joint custodial parents from the day our children are born - courts make us visitors.
I wonder if Abraham Lincoln were here today if he would say... "This government of the lawyers, by the lawyers, for the lawyers must perish from this earth so that parents and their children may have a new birth of freedom."
SO WHAT'S THE SOLUTION?
1. Parenting education on the affects of conflict on children, alternative parenting arrangements, conflict resolution, leading to mediation.
2. Mediation, including developing a parenting plan.
3. Presumption of shared parenting responsibility.
4. Enforcement of Orders and accountability for Judges who make them.
I have not yet given up on this country but... We need changes and we need them now! I leave you with a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt: "In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the RIGHT thing, the next best thing is the WRONG thing, and the worst thing you can do is NOTHING."
Murray Steinberg is recognized as one of the long time leading advocates for families in the state of Virginia. Along with his wife Dr. Barbara Steinberg, Murray has worked at the state and national levels to advocate for parent education, mediation, and shared parenting responsibility. Murray has served on numberous state committees and is a lobbyist at the Virginia General Assembly as well as on Capitol Hill.