Will this Legislature uphold or undermine ideals of family?

Animating the Sutherland Institute’s efforts on family issues at the Legislature is the principle that individual family disintegration or failure to form is not the only problem our society faces. The increasing social and legal acceptance of family breakdown and weakness is also a very serious problem and contributes to individual tragedies.

In the 2013 session, the Legislature has the opportunity to bolster or undermine the ideals of family reflected in the state’s laws.

Senator Lyle Hillyard has sponsored a common-sense measure that would allow courts to consider whether a divorcing spouse engaged in abuse or adultery when deciding amounts of spousal support that will have to be paid on divorce. Current court interpretations prevent judges from adjusting amounts or denying alimony even when the money is to be paid from an innocent spouse to a former spouse who left the family to pursue another relationship.

In its initial hearing, the bill was defeated, seemingly because of concerns that the law might lead to a flood of litigation. As Senator Hillyard noted, this is a very unlikely scenario, since the bill would restore the law that existed before being modified by a court in 2009 and there was no surge of divorce lawsuits previous to that point. In fact, alimony is considered in only a minority of divorce cases. Hopefully, legislators will reconsider this bill.

Senator Stuart Reid is sponsoring a bill this year that would create a commission on intergenerational poverty tasked with determining what can be done to break the cycle of poverty that limits the prospects of far too many of Utah’s children. This is a laudable effort.

Senator Reid is also proposing a bill that would allow parents to receive information they need to take the responsibility for teaching their children about human intimacy rather than delegating that responsibility to public schools. Representative Jim Nielson has made a bill request for a law that would allow divorcing couples to be made aware of the consequences of the divorce decision before they file.

On the negative side, a bill has been proposed (yet again) that would dramatically alter Utah law so as to allow cohabiting couples to jointly adopt children. The data on outcomes for children raised in homes with cohabiting parents are far from encouraging. There is certainly no compelling reason why a mother’s boyfriend or partner should be able to circumvent current adoption law protections and plenty of compelling reasons why this change would be a serious mistake.

The law creates incentives, disincentives and sometimes perverse incentives for various decisions of citizens. It is time for a careful examination, perhaps by a special commission, of the incentive structure of our marriage and family laws. Those that incentivize strong and enduring marriages that link mothers and fathers to one another and to their children should be retained or developed.

Those that discourage family formation or encourage divorce by sending the false message that the decision to end a marriage has no consequences need to be eliminated.

This session is not too early to start this process.

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  • Christie Moore

    Thank you for your efforts to cover this most important topic: strengthening, not weakening, the family in our system of laws.
    The most harmful bill this session seems to have escaped your scrutiny: Aaron Osmond’s proposal to have the State sponsor univeral preschool.

  • 1deb

    Thank you for your information on these bills. Senator Hillyard’s bill re being able to assign fault in a divorce when one of the parties is destroying the marriage and family for an affair, addiction, etc., should be reconsidered and passed.

    A joint resolution that needs to receive a lot of air time and promotion is SJR 15, which Sen. Weiler has put forward in response to research by Dr. Jen Brown, a dentist in Davis County, who reports that she has found 65 research studies in the U of U data base that shows the devastating effects of SOFT pornography (the kind you see walking through a mall, halloween store, or regular programming/advertising on television, and billboards) on children and adolescents. She gave testimony this week concerning the damage to the prefrontal cortex, which is the reasoning, higher functioning part of the brain that distinguishes us from the animal kingdom, and the reinforcement of the basal ganglia, that increases addiction, violence, aggression, self-centeredness, when exposed to this soft pornography. She reports that it actually affects the development of the brain as it is flooded with neurons, testosterone, cortisol and norepinephrine (responsible for flashbulb memories). Because the basal ganglia is being stimulated regularly it diminishes the development of the prefrontal cortex. This is HUGE, parents/teachers/business people, etc.

    I agree with Christie that Osmond’s bill, SB-71 ‘Results Based Financing for Early Childhood Education’, is a big mistake and takes on one of the major problems with Common Core–using our children as test subjects to prove or disprove a program’s effectiveness, and then having the taxpayers pay exorbitantly for it, and the great potential that it will be ineffective. It also removes children from their homes too early, which can cause emotional challenges. And putting it under the Department of Workforce Services, who are to staff the board created by this bill, removing it from the auspices of parents, teachers, voters and school boards, is astounding. It also creates a new student identifier to track our children. This is a bad bill.  
    I am concerned about SB-39 ‘Parental Responsibility for Sex Education Training’ on one point: the word ‘training’ changes the bill from the intent indicated by the title–to strength a parent’s responsibility and constitutional authority to train their own children, to training the parents to train their children. As stated in the bill, “This bill requires the State Board of Education to offer TRAINING TO PARENTS…” and “The board shall develop a parents health education training program for parents of minors…to INSTRUCT PARENTS HOW TO EDUCATE THEIR CHILDREN on health education…” To codify that the state will ‘train’ parents in how to train their children seems to undermine the legal authority of the parent and changes the purported intent of the bill from providing materials consistent with what the school is teaching, to having the state in charge of the education with the parent as the teacher/trainer. I cannot support it.