October 18, 2014 by Gilbert T. Tso, Co-Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Colorado
Across our beautiful State of Colorado, indeed across America, the idea of family has evolved in very dramatic ways since the founding of our State and our nation more than two-hundred years ago. Today we have married families, divorced and blended families, single-parent families, and adoptive families throughout Colorado and America.
What remains immutable, however, are the core elements of what constitutes “family.” Throughout history, “family” is universally accepted to be a group consisting of parents, their children, and their descendants, all sharing in a common bond that is uniquely distinct and separate from other groups of people.
With the advent of “no-fault” divorce, we’ve witnessed the erosion of families across our society; indeed, there is a hidden war on American families waged by ideologues, social policy makers, special interests and the family courts.
We believe that as Americans, we have a fundamental liberty interest to “family”, and the rights of individuals to “family” are not only individual rights, but natural rights protected by the Constitution of the United States of America. Indeed, our Constitution guarantees our right to “life, liberty and property.” Only under the most extreme of circumstances are these liberty interests denied to a citizen, a person, and only when fair and impartial enforcement of due process and equal protection have been dutifully administered.
Parents have a liberty interest to exercise their right to parental access, parental authority, parental care and a relationship with their children. Children have a liberty interest to enjoy the love, care and protection of their parents, and a relationship with their parents. Grandparents and extended family members have a liberty interest and right to enjoy the fruits of their labor and share in life’s blessings that are embodied in simple acts like teaching their grandchildren family traditions and family history.
Due process and equal protection guaranteed under the Constitution applies to all American families, regardless of the individual family’s circumstances; this is true for married families as it is for divorced families, for single-parent families as it is for adoptive families, and so on. Why? Because these guarantees are attached to the individual and thus carry over to the groups they belong to. Indeed, time and again the Supreme Court of the United States of America has upheld and reinforced the principles that our judicial system must ensure due process and equal protection for all citizens.
The National Parents Organization, and our Colorado affiliate, together with parents and concerned citizens of the State of Colorado, seek reform of Title 14 of the Colorado Revised Statutes — DOMESTIC MATTERS, DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE — PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES, such that Colorado statutes and social policies concerning our children are truly in their best interest.
Parental rights, and children’s rights to a relationship with their parents, are liberty interests protected under the Constitution of the United States of America. Where children are at issue, the U.S. Supreme Court, guided by the Constitution, has repeatedly issued decisions that clearly set restrictions on the State’s right to intervene.1,2,3,4,5 The State is limited in its reach and intrusion into the liberty interests of American citizens, and can only do so when a clear and overriding State interest exists. (Parens Patriae) The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that where the interests of children are at issue, these are best determined by fit and responsible parents and not the State. Indeed, social science and research support the argument that children need the love and presence of both parents in their lives.6
Family members, most importantly parents and their children, visited with the misfortune of a divorce or separation should not be denied their liberty interests simply because of changes to the family’s circumstances. In America, various estimates indicate that between 33% to 45% of marriages will eventually end in divorce.7 For divorces involving children, this is a significant issue.
In the absence of child endangerment, neglect, abandonment, or relevant addiction, § 14-10-124 CRS — Best Interest of Child, should presume that each parent is equally fit, and presume the right of each parent to equal access and exercise of their parental rights, and the right of the children to equal access and exercise of their rights to both parents. The exception would be when the parties agree to a different arrangement, or when one parent expresses serious and verifiable reasons why the other parent’s liberty interests should be denied, thereupon due process and equal protection must be applied in an evidentiary hearing to establish endangerment, neglect or relevant addiction before the parent’s fundamental rights and liberty interests are denied.
Also, we believe the wholesale use of custody evaluations does not necessarily serve the best interest of the child or family. We strongly believe custody evaluations should follow strict protocols and standards of evidence, as with criminal investigations that follow felonious charges. Respect for and protection of an individual parent’s liberty interests has to be the highest priority when what is at stake is the denial of the fundamental rights of a parent and the children. Only when strict protocols and standards of evidence are applied should an evaluator’s recommendations be allowed into court for consideration.
Reform will significantly reduce custody litigation, leaving predominantly those cases where child endangerment, neglect, abandonment, and/or fitness of a parent are justifiably in question.
It is with these beliefs and Constitution-based principles in mind that we, the National Parents Organization of Colorado, a group of concerned parents and citizens of the State of Colorado, are petitioning our State legislators to examine and amend Title 14 of the Colorado Revised Statutes — DOMESTIC MATTERS, DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE — PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES. Specifically, we are respectfully asking our representatives in the Colorado legislature to amend Title 14 of the Colorado Revised Statutes to ensure that all citizens, parents, children and their families, who are proud to call Colorado their home, have their liberty interests, natural rights and civil protections guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States of America, be affirmed and protected under our Colorado statutes.
1 Troxel vs. Granville, (2000)
2 Stanley vs. Illinois, (1972)
3 Santosky vs. Kramer (1982)
4 Eisenstadt vs. Baird (1972)
5 Meyer vs. Nebraska (1923)
6 The Equal Parent Presumption, Edward Kruk, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013
7 The New York Times, Dan Hurley, “Divorce Rate et seq”, April 19, 2005