Alimony, audits and adoption: family issues heard during Utah interim meetings

During last week’s interim day meetings, the legislature heard three family issues.

The Judiciary Interim Committee listened to testimony about reforming alimony (brought to the Committee by Representative Fred Cox, R-West Valley City) which has been a Sutherland Institute priority. The proposal would allow courts to consider whether one spouse broke up a marriage in determining an award of support from one spouse to the other. This is a matter of basic justice: a person who did nothing to break up a marriage should not have to pay the spouse who did; a spouse should also not be put into a bad financial position by a spouse who destroys a marriage. The committee seemed open to the commonsense principle the reform would advance. Sutherland will continue working on this issue. Read more

Parents’ rights in interim committee hearing

On Wednesday, June 20th, the Judiciary Interim Committee of the Legislature will hear testimony about the appropriate balance between protecting children at risk in their homes and preserving families. The study is part of an important bill, House Bill 161, approved in the 2012 session.

It appears the discussion will be centered on a careful audit of the state’s Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). That audit raises some important questions and makes valuable recommendations. For instance:  Read more

Chicken nuggets and government paternalism

Did you hear about this story? Apparently a preschool in North Carolina seized the lunch of a 4-year-old girl because it didn’t meet USDA nutrition requirements. The lunch her mother had packed contained a “turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice.”

The school provided a replacement lunch for the girl (at a charge of $1.25), but she ate only three chicken nuggets.

It appears that government paternalism is rising to new heights. This case adds an interesting twist to Ronald Reagan’s quip, “The 10 most dangerous words in the English language are ‘Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

We have written extensively on the dangers of paternalism. You can read some of our thoughts here.

News roundup: Remove obese children from their homes?


Child custody and obesity

Should government take children from their parents if the children become obese? In Ohio, parents lost custody of their 8-year-old son because he weighed more than 200 pounds. The boy was placed in foster care.

Officials argue that his sleep apnea problem, possibly related to his obesity, is imminently dangerous. The family’s public defender will argue that the boy is not in imminent danger.

Where do we draw the line on when government steps in to “protect” children from their parents? Utah has seen its fair share of cases in which DCFS, without just cause, has removed or attempted to remove children from homes, including this case. Read more

Tables turned: UHSAA to defend itself in court


In the latest dispute between parents and the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA), Ronald and Susan Mika, parents of Eric Mika, are suing the UHSAA for denying Eric the opportunity to play basketball this year, even though he transferred schools for personal, non-athletic reasons.

You can read about the background of Eric’s situation here, here and here, and you can read the lawsuit here.

This case is one among a plethora demonstrating the irrationality of the UHSAA’s transfer rule for student-athletes and general administrative approach in addressing transfers and eligibility. We could recall numerous arguments to support this assertion, but, above all, we should remember that primarily parents – not the state, not public schools and certainly not the UHSAA – should determine where their children attend school and for what reasons. Read more

‘Education savings accounts’: a game-changing idea


For you parents out there with students in high school, how would you like it if you were given a chunk of money to pay for the best high school education possible for your child, with the flexibility to take the best math class from one public school and the best English class in another public school? Further, how would you like it if, after your child’s customized education were paid for, you were allowed to keep any leftover money to pay for college?

This personalized, parent-centered approach to public education may be coming soon to a public school near you. Read more

Ogden rally raw footage, empowering parents, NCLB


Today in Ogden, an estimated 400 people protested the Ogden School District’s decision to forgo collective bargaining in favor of a contract made on its own terms. You can see footage of the protest here, taken by Alexis Young, Sutherland’s multimedia reporter:


Notice the signs that read “Teachers Are Not The Problem.” We agree. The problem in Ogden is not the teachers. The problem, at least one of them, is that the teachers union as an organization has not been able to reach an agreement with the district for several years running and is now concerned about losing more power. Read more

Video games, parental rights and double standards


Reactions to the Supreme Court ruling that struck down a California law regulating the sale of violent games to minors strike me as interesting, to say the least. Regardless of where one stands on this particular ruling, it is interesting to note how often legislators and the courts step in to take over the role as parent.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was quoted as saying, “The government isn’t always able to step in and take over the role as parent,” in defending the Supreme Court ruling regarding these violent games. The Deseret News article further quoted Shurtleff as follows:

“Nobody likes the fact that there are violent video games out there, and no one likes their kids watching them,” Shurtleff said, adding parents and the gaming industry need to take responsibility for keeping violent games away from minors, just as with movies and music. “Parents, that’s the key. That’s what is going to control what movies they see and what music they listen to. Video games are no different,” Shurtleff told the Deseret News. He said he believes that the government shouldn’t step in and substitute for parenting.

“Parents need to wake up and be aware,” he said.

I agree wholeheartedly with Shurtleff’s first comment and would add that the government shouldn’t step in and take over the parent’s role. But why is it OK for the government to do it in some instances and then not do it in other instances? Read more

Paved with good intentions: the Utah Supreme Court’s flawed analysis in Jensen v. Cunningham


On April 30, 2003, 12-year-old Parker Jensen was taken to a doctor to have a small growth under his tongue removed. A long nightmare for the Parker family had begun, culminating in a recent legal decision by the Utah Supreme Court.1 Facts summarized in each paragraph are taken exclusively from the court’s opinion as cited, except where otherwise stated, even though some might argue the court omitted discussion of additional information favorable to the Jensens.

Parker’s growth was referred for study to Dr. Lars Wagner at Primary Children’s Medical Center. Wagner diagnosed Ewing’s sarcoma and told the Jensens that Parker would die unless treatments in addition to surgery were utilized.2

On May 28, 2003, the Jensens consulted with Dr. Judith Moore, a family doctor in Bountiful. Barbara Jensen’s father had received treatment from Moore for prostate cancer and the family had confidence in her expertise. Moore questioned Wagner’s diagnosis because “all the evidence except for the [Primary Children’s pathology testing] were negative for cancer.”3

Wagner asserted his approach was superior to Moore’s approach because of his consistency with federal regulations. Wagner refused to conduct additional medical tests. After the Jensens indicated they no longer wished to use Wagner or Primary Children’s Medical Center, Wagner said he would report them to the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS).4 Read more