Child rearing and custody issues tend to be the most divisive in American divorce courts. In some cases, disputes are exacerbated by what appears to be a reluctance among courts to decisively interfere. Courts have a tendency to be cautious when it comes to parental rights issues. But lest you think it is a matter of cowardice, there is a very good reason why courts are cautious.
Chicago’s ABM family law says the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized both the existence and weight of parental rights for more than a hundred years. Dozens of cases have been settled in favor of parents being given ultimate control in determining how their children will be raised. Many of those cases have resulted in fundamental changes to U.S. law.
Below is a selection of fundamental parental rights recognized by federal courts. As you read them, understand that all rights come with responsibilities. Courts are able to rule against parents when evidence proves a violation of law, incompetence, or a limited legal circumstance that would warrant suspending or terminating rights.
The Right to Direct a Child’s Upbringing
One of the first cases confirming the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children was Meyer v. Nebraska decided in 1923. The case revolved around the state of Nebraska attempting to forbid parents from teaching their children German. The court ruled that the 14th amendment’s due process clause gave parents the right to “marry, establish a home, and bring up children.”
In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in Troxel v. Granville that a Washington statute allowing courts to force grandparent visitation was unconstitutional. Justices recognized that parents have a fundamental right to decide who their children spend time with.
The Right to Direct the Child’s Education
It is assumed by many modern parents that they are legally required to send their children to public school. No such legal mandate exists. In fact, multiple Supreme Court rulings have recognized parents’ rights to direct how their children are educated, even if that means keeping them from public school.
Pierce v. Society of Sisters was a 1925 Supreme Court case that struck down an Oregon law mandating public school attendance. The court determined that parents have the right to send their children to private or parochial schools as they see fit.
The 1972 decision rendered in Wisconsin v. Yoder established the legality of homeschooling in America. In that case, the court determined that Wisconsin’s compulsory education law was unconstitutional in that it denied a father’s right to pull his child out of public school and educate him at home.
The Right to Resist Coercive Intervention
A landmark 1977 case recognized the right of parents to resist coercive intervention by state agencies in family matters. Though this particular case never made it to the Supreme Court, the Second Circuit Court determined that families have a right to stay together and to enjoy “the emotional attachments that derive from the intimacy of daily association.”
In simple terms, parents have a right to maintain strong emotional relationships with their children separate from state interference. State officials cannot purposely interfere with those relationships. They cannot engage in coercive activity designed to intentionally separate children from their parents emotionally.
ABM Family Law recommends that parents retain the services of an attorney if they feel their parental rights are in jeopardy. While courts tend to be extremely cautious about parental rights, there are times when they push the envelope too far. An experienced family law attorney can protect parental rights against individuals and courts that seek to violate them.