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Jewish World Review Feb. 16, 2000 /10 Adar I, 5760

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Putting families in the hands of the Court -- I HAVE GROWING CONCERN about the ever more intrusive role of the courts in family life. On the one hand, we have family law judges returning foster children to the care of unstable homes -- over the objections of social workers, in many instances. On the other hand, we have an Oregon judge granting a man visitation to the children of his dead girlfriend, over the objections of the children's father. And just this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the parents of a dead man had the right to court-ordered extensive visitation with their son's children, who have now been adopted by their mother's husband.

What is going on? It seems to me that the sanctity of the family is under attack on many fronts, but that the welfare of the children involved is of little consequence to the decision-makers. There is definitely something wrong with this picture..

The headline in the MidValley Sunday Gazette Times in Corvallis, Ore., reads, "Boyfriend Wins Right to See Sons of Girlfriend." The article begins: "In a ruling that surprised family law experts and stunned a St. Helens father, an Oregon judge awarded visitation with his children to their dead mother's boyfriend. Randi Daum must allow his sons, 7 and 8, to spend one Saturday a month with Bruce Harrington, who dated the boys' mother for almost two years before she died in a 1997 car accident.".

When did it become OK for the courts to make these kinds of decisions? Maybe this woman dated another guy for a year. Does he have a right to visitation with her children? How about the guy's parents? Don't they have a right to visits, too, if they got attached to the boys when their son was shacking up with the mother?.

"Family law experts say they had not heard of a boyfriend being awarded visitation rights before. 'I've heard of stepparents and grandparents getting these rights. But I've never heard of essentially a dating relationship morphing into a psychological parent,' said a Portland attorney." Harrington never lived with the boys in the 20 months he dated the woman, but they spent "significant time together" at each other's homes..

Is there any other way to read this than that the judge actually approved of the mother having a sexual relationship with a guy in the same house with her kids? Not too long ago this type of behavior was used to demonstrate unfitness in the courts. Now it's obviously considered a positive thing for kids. G-d help us!.

"Mr. Harrington was in fact acting as a stepparent," Columbia County Circuit Court Judge Steven B. Reed wrote in his ruling..

Sleeping with the mother and having dinner with the family is now considered stepparenting? Where are the vows, signed papers, commitment to a covenant and a shared household? I guess these details are not of any consequence in Oregon. Being a stud makes a stepparent there..

The grandparents who have taken their case to the Supreme Court are, of course, in a different category. The children they seek court-ordered access to are, in fact, their flesh and blood, and they have enjoyed a relationship with them since birth. I think that particular case is worth its own column, but it's important to say that the issue of the sanctity of the family is the same..

These two children are now in a blended family of eight kids. The parents must be overwhelmed with the competing needs, schedules and activities of all these children, at the same time trying to knit them into a cohesive family unit. Imagine how disruptive it would be for a mother of eight to have two kids on different schedules every other weekend and during some vacations, which is what the grandparents are asking for in their lawsuit. .

My heart goes out to the grandparents who have lost their son. But there has to be a better way to resolve this than to ask the U.S. Supreme Court for a ruling. I'll have more to say about this next time.

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