Law;Family law;Parental Rights


Parental rights are—and should remain—the backbone of family law. State deference to parents is warranted not because parents are infallible, nor because parents own their children, but rather because parental rights, properly understood and limited, promote child wellbeing.1 This is true for several reasons, but two stand out. First, parental rights promote the stability of the parent-child relationship by restricting the state’s authority to intervene in families. This protection promotes healthy child development for all children, and it is especially important for low-income families and families of color, who are subject to intensive state scrutiny.2 Second, parental rights ensure that parents, rather than a private third party or state actor such as a judge or social worker, make decisions about what advances a child’s interests. The legal system defers to parents’ decisions both because parents are well positioned to know what an individual child needs, and because state intervention to vindicate the decision-making power of a nonparent would expose the child to significant risks of family disruption and contentious litigation.3

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