Family Law Reform: The Failure Of A Moral Argument


Consider the following story from one of our members:

“My son testified in the state capital when a proposal was made to adopt 50/50 custody.

He did not care about money, he pays his support by living home with me. What he wanted was more time with his sons and he petitioned for an extra overnight, and waived child support reduction. 

The mother’s lawyer asked why if he was only putting the kids to bed?

He told the her, I want to lay in my bed and listen to my sons breathing in their sleep knowing they are close by me.

At the state hearing, a legislator told him the proposal would not get much support because: We don’t care about you, its all about the money.”

~ Susan

This story, in a tragic and powerful way, illustrates everything thing that’s vile about family law. Even the mother’s attorney couldn’t understand why he would waive his child support reduction to get one more overnight when “he was only putting the kids to bed…”

Um, maybe because he loves them?

Sadly, it neatly sums up and presents the heart of the problem with respect to existing family law: politicians have legislated the creation of absent parents so that other can profit from it. The focus is not on people, it’s on the money to be made and they’re brutally throwing both parents and children under the bus to realize their goals.

Why Isn’t The Moral Argument Working?

Don’t allow yourself to be fooled. It is easy to rest under the misperception that a strong moral appeal is enough to motivate action.  For some it is, but for most? Nope.

You’ve probably seen this yourself.  There are things people say publicly that are inconsistent with their actions, and thus the old axiom: attach little credibility to what people say they will do, and attach a whole lot of credibility to what you observe them actually doing.

Which is sort of a polite way of saying, people will manufacture a public image that is different from what they really care about, i.e. people will lie or misrepresent when it serves their interests.

In economics, we use a crafty little strategic tactic called a screen to get people to reveal themselves.  With a screen, you mindfully construct a choice for the target, and let his or her actions speak for themselves.  Of course, you don’t have to go through the process of constructing a screen, you can also utilize natural screens which only requires observing what people choose to do in response to events that happen naturally.

Which leads us to an important insight: If politicians were motivated by morals, they would have rewritten these laws 20 years ago, which also means if we’re going to solve the family law problem and deliver change, we’re going to have to change our approach to the problem.

Family Law Reform: Failure Of Political Influence

For more than thirty years, family law reform advocates have been working like crazy to persuade legislators to build a healthier system of family law.

And after all the time and effort spent engaging with state legislators, next to nothing has been done to address the problems of child abuse by parental alienation, false allegations of abuse made in family court, and the grossly unequal and irrational enforcement of custody and child support orders.

Just one state (Kentucky) has adopted law for the presumption of 50-50 custody, while a handful of the others push “shared parenting legislation” that is in truth, not substantively different than existing law.

In other words, we’ve been witnessing theater intended to make it appear as though politicians are enacting progressive law, when in fact, these laws are not substantively different from what already existed.

They’re playing games.

If you want to influence politician behavior, it helps to know three important things:

  1. What they care about.
  2. What their goals are.
  3. How they like to go about getting things done.

Additionally, and with respect to goals, it’s important to keep in mind the difference between means goals and ends goals.

For example, a politician may tell you what you want to hear (manipulative action) to appease you (means goal) when in fact she intends on doing something else like satisfying a lobbyist so she can harvest money for an election campaign (means goal) to win an election (means goal) because she cares about harvesting power (means goal) in order to accomplish legislative goals (ends goal).

Of course, some politicians will be guided by conscience, but sadly, a few legislators are not enough to get something done. And for most politicians (despite what they tell us) moral conscience is not in the equation.

The good news is, when you understand how someone operates and why, you can discern what they’re up to and outmaneuver them.

Change The Incentives, Change The Game

The father in the Susan’s story simply wanted to be a parent. He advocated to his elected officials for the presumption of 50/50 custody, and was told by a legislator that he, his relationship with his children, and his children are not important.

I can’t even begin to describe the anger and loathing I feel when I see politicians, judges, lawyers, family court investigators, and custodial parents prioritize the harvesting of money over and above the well being people, especially children.

For many of us, parenting is all we’ve every wanted from life. And no parent should be forced to bankrupt themselves to stay in the lives of their children, nor should they be forced to choose between paying child support or hiring an attorney in a desperate attempt to enforce ignored custody orders.

Our family justice system is absolutely corrupted by greed, and the foxes are ruling the hen house.  There is no excuse for using children as leverage to extort money from a parent, and there is no excuse for creating absent parents so that states can harvest money from the Federal Government.

This. Is. Ludicrous.

I know there are noncustodial parents reading this blog post who, like me, have been immeasurably and irreparably hurt by how our they’ve been treated.

I know there are extended family members who’ve been painfully alienated from their grand children, their nephews, and their nieces.

And I know there are children suffering immense emotional and psychological damage because they’ve lost a parent due to a legal system and a family court industry that more concerned with making money than protecting children.

We have every right to be angry – No one should be treated the way.  However, we also have the responsibility to take ownership of the problem, because sitting around feeling sorry or waiting for others to do the work is not going to result in a solution.

In short, we need more horsepower to win, and actually, we have it. We’re just not using it effectively.

Our job at the Love and Iron Project is to make it easy for small, individual actions on your part to have big, powerful effects to family law. Because it’s not one person doing giant, heroic things that’s going win this.  It’s all of us doing small but highly effective things that when pooled together change the game.  That’s guiding philosophy of everything you’ve seen from us in the past, and everything you’ll continue to see from us in the future.

The key thing that stories like Susan’s reveal is that purely persuasive efforts with politicians have not been enough.

Recalling the motivational pattern noted above regarding politicians, if we want to impose our legislative goals for family law reform on them, it’s not difficult to see that we have numerous leverage points from which to work, and we can actually stress all of them simultaneously. Most notably:

  • Utilize skepticism and sentiment.
  • Make it difficult for them to raise money.
  • Make it difficult for them to get elected.
  • Threaten their power.
  • Disrupt the achievement of their goals.

We’ve built a road map (which we’ll unveil next week-ish) to accomplish all those things.


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