Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Toward a philosphy of child custody

In a comment to my last post, paterian wrote:

"Before you get too far, consider how insanely problematic it is to attempt to quantify goodness (what is best?). Goodness according to what standard? Out of how many conceivable standards? Who gets to choose these standards? Why? Consider the relationship between science and values, ontology vs deontology. Is psychology a science or an ethos? Folderol."

To which I reply:

Indeed, one cannot derive an "ought" from an "is". One has to choose some standard from which to work. Science does not moralize, but its results can be used to positive effect. It is my contention that the standard we use through most of the western world is inappropriate to our modern society and rooted in an incomplete, even willingly biased (mis)understanding of human nature. This has produced what amounts to an ideology which is often unnecessarily and destructively in conflict with the best interest of children in the event of a divorce.

We do not apply "the least detrimental alternative", as Goldstein et al. express it, but a sometimes poor approximation which is derived from unnecessary expediency. More simply, I think that the modern standard of child placement between two willing, perfectly capable, but mutually incompatible parents fails to instill cooperation, creates rather than reduces conflict, undermines the well-being of children and fails to respect the human rights and needs of those children and their parents. This standard derives from assumptions about human behavior which are known not to be true (or are too crude or too generally applied). It was adopted in order to avoid risks which can now be effectively controlled through other means and it is applied too blindly.

I believe that we need a "modern synthesis" rather than an ideology. I am not qualified to define the structure of that synthesis, but I can point out what I believe to be the flaws of what is in place and opine about what I think should replace it. 'Besides, it helps me understand and therefore cope with my own disenfranchisement.

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1 comment:

invisibledad said...

In addition to what you cite, I believe traditional gender roles have also been major factors contributing to policy--the idea that it's the father's job to provide resources and the mother's job to provide care. Feminist equalitarians seem rather prone to change the subject when the issue arises.

There's a poll I'd like to see taken. Ask adults who grew up in two parent families to rank the importance of each parent in their personal development and lives. I would like to see how the results square with the apparent importance assigned by today's family law system.

A problem I see with alleged scientific approaches determining the best interests of the child is one of selecting which factors matter most and then quantifying them. Once basic needs are met, noses are wiped and teeth are brushed, how important is, for example, the teaching children character? And how does one go about quantifying it?

The system I've seen gives no consideration whatsoever to such things, which may be a reason why so many boys growing up in single mother homes get into so much trouble. The system seems to operate from the assumption that as long as bellies are full and hair is brushed, all is well.

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