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From Courtship to Courtroom:
What Divorce Law Is Doing to Marriage

reviewed by Stephen Baskerville
page two

In some books this style might be considered a weakness, but at this juncture it is precisely what is called for. The most gruesome horror story always leaves the suspicion that the entire story has not been told or that it may not be typical. This book presents, if not quite the whole story (and the scenario Abraham depicts is certainly not the worst possible), then the simple daily madness: the facts which no one denies but whose full implications few are willing to face. Much is written in the second person: This is what will happen to you. In a sense it is one extended generic horror-story the horror that is simply routine, so routine that it never makes the newspapers: the stealing and institutionalized abuse of children, the plundering and criminalization of fathers, the relentless and wholesale destruction of innocent lives. And all carried out by government officials on the take. What we read about here is the routinization of terror, what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil: evil committed not by obvious monsters but by ordinary decent folk like the couple next door or the paper pusher in the next office, all sugar-coated with euphemisms such as divorce and custody battle.

Abraham does not write this way. The book is neither ponderous nor accusatory but fast-paced and highly readable all the more so for its occasionally caustic humor. The section entitled How Divorce Law Takes Away Your Children is of primary concern to readers of this journal (though a substantial section on How Divorce Law Takes Away Your Property is also worth a look). As a book for public consumption it is refreshingly direct, with effective phrasing and little mincing of words. Yet some readers may find his most direct and shocking statements might have benefited from being even more direct and shocking. From the moment your wife files for divorce, the State, acting through the court, will assert authority over everything you own, is only part of the truth: everything you do and everyone you love is more accurate for many. The claim that divorce is a wealth redistribution racket is effective, but kidnapping and extortion racket may more clearly convey the crime (though a family resocialization scheme that turns mothers into State-sponsored single parents, is also memorable). When the court awards sole custody to your ex, you lose SOME basic rights of parenthood (emphasis added) will leave many readers wanting to substitute the words essentially all and some will be tempted to add, plus most of your other constitutional rights as well.

While a political analysis is again not his purpose, the final chapter does call for fathers to become politically active for legislative change. Yet for a lawyer one might have expected some more extended comment on how all this so directly violates the supreme law of the land: the Constitution. Abrahams own sample list of invasive interrogatories pages of pesky questions peering impertinently into your private life itself justifies his occasional use of terms such as gulag and Orwellian.

This neglect also leads him to urge changing the law as a plausible remedy, presumably by legislatures. Experienced activists might reply that effective change is more likely to come from enforcing the Bill of Rights and other existing provisions. Of course the two are not mutually exclusive, and neither should be dismissed.

But changing the law also implies, as Abraham at one point states, that the book is about bad law, not bad judges or bad lawyers. Perhaps, but in this instance the bad law is case law, at least as much as it is statute. Moreover, systemic corruption does not require that everyone involved be bad, only that a crooked system rewards chicanery and punishes integrity. Czech dissident Vaclav Havel once wrote that in a true totalitarian system everyone is both victim and perpetrator, the proportion of each being determined by ones placement in the hierarchy. This might describe the predicament of players in this newest form of bureaucratic dictatorship, even the good family court judges Abraham insists exist. Crooked as fathers rightly see them, we might recall that were they to uphold their oath of office by administering equal justice and due process they would almost certainly lose their jobs. So I might have hoped for a paragraph something like the following, in as close to Abraham-speak as I can imitate it:

When your wife goes before a judge and asks him to strip you of all your rights over your children, to order you to stay away from them and move out of the house and begin making child support payments, that judge has a choice: He can simply say No, there is no evidence this father has done anything wrong, and no grounds exist to violate his constitutional rights to be free from government intrusion into his private life and relations with his children, even temporarily. Your children will then grow up in a stable, intact home because your wife, however persuaded by the local womens support group that she is in a bad marriage, will have to accommodate herself to what she cannot change. But no lawyers, psychotherapists or anyone else will make any money, their professional associations will seek the removal of the judge, and the demand for family court judges themselves will be sharply diminished. Alternatively, the judge can say OK, in which case the way is opened for your wife, the lawyers, and shrinks to divvy up everything you have, and they will not neglect to thank the judge when the time for reappointment and promotion rolls around. If you were the judge, what would you do?

But I should not be putting words into Abrahams mouth. He has chosen his own, and perhaps he has chosen wisely. For if there is one book that fathers activists might profitably place in the hands of legislators short, sharp, and shocking this would be the obvious choice. (The publishers may wish to encourage such sales with significant price reductions for bulk orders, mindful of the impecunious state of divorced fathers and fathers groups, for precisely the reasons their author describes.)

Meanwhile, we will still have to slog away in the court of public opinion with the hope that someday perhaps we may get into the federal courts as well which some of us, once upon a time, naively used to see as the principal defenders of constitutional rights. Perhaps Abraham could write us another book on how to proceed.

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From Courtship to Courtroom: What Divorce Law Is Doing to Marriage
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Copyright © 2000 Stephen Baskerville. All rights reserved.
Stephen Baskerville teaches political science at Howard University.

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