Has the American Family Court System Become Totalitarian?

In 2007, the media have a feeding frenzy around a voice-mail message actor Alec Baldwin left his daughter. He screamed at her for not answering her phone. The public was shocked: many assumed that he was yet another self-absorbed celebrity, with neither control over himself nor regard for his daughter. But in fact, Baldwin had been caught in the web of the totalitarian nightmare known as the American family court system. His book, A Promise to Ourselves , tells his particular story, while Stephen Baskerville’s book, Taken Into Custody , presents the general problem of which Baldwin’s story is a particular case.

Alec Baldwin is a divorced father, who had been fighting for six years to have some semblance of a normal relationship with his child. Baldwin’s estranged wife, actress Kim Basinger, had been using the family court system to prevent him from doing what most fathers take for granted: seeing his child, talking with his child, and watching her grow up. A Promise to Ourselves chronicles in sickening detail how the court system serves the most vindictive and ruthless parent.

Even without the book, astute observers of this case realized that something was slightly strange about the claims that Baldwin should be denied access to his child. For instance, who released the tape of the call to the public? None other than  Basinger and her attorney, in an attempt to smear Baldwin. What kind of mother would use her daughter as a pawn in a spiteful power game with the child’s father? And, what was the “back story” to this particular phone call? Despite having court authorization for phone contact with his daughter, her cell phone would be turned off for long periods of time. On this particular occasion, she was on spring break with her mother and her phone had been turned off for ten days. Moreover, isn’t this odd all by itself that a father who has committed no crime has to have court permission to speak to his own child?

Now, what the media made Baldwin out to be is conceivable: an abusive, out-of-control father who has inflicted irreparable harm on his daughter through verbal abuse. Yet even if the worst about Baldwin were true (by the way, he offers no excuses for yelling at his daughter), his portrait of the Los Angeles County Family Court remains imminently valuable, as it reveals the extent of power that family courts wield over ordinary citizens. His account cannot be easily dismissed, given the extent of detail that he provides and the fact that it accords with too many other reports of family courts. As he tells his story, the leading character and the true villain is the Los Angeles Family Court system, Lady Macbeth, Iago, and Shylock all rolled into one. Even from the viewpoint of a wealthy and famous man, Baldwin generates plenty of sympathy for the obscure and the less wealthy of both sexes who are caught in the grip of the family court.

He first noticed the financial intrusion. During “financial settlement conferences,” both husbands and wives must reveal all their assets. While Baldwin accepts the necessity of preventing people from hiding their true net worth, he noticed this side effect: “The lawyers on both sides now know, inarguably, how much money you have and, therefore, how deeply into this hole you can go. And they do not hesitate to throw you down as deeply as they possibly can.” Throughout the rest of the story, the lawyers extract as much money as possible from him.

But money isn’t the half of it. Baldwin had to continually look over his shoulder at the court and its representatives to ensure that he did not run afoul of their requirements. He tells of the menagerie of minions appointed by the court to manage the divorcing process and the inevitable post-divorce conflict: forensic accountants, custody evaluators, therapists, visitation supervisors, parenting class instructors, anger management instructors. These are all professionals that most people normally never see, but who have abnormally large impacts on the lives of divorcing families. Think of this: the courts and their appointees are controlling the day-to-day lives of a man innocent of any wrongdoing. A negative report from any one of these professionals can jeopardize a father’s chances of having more time with his own child.

Baldwin does not discuss the ease of divorce ushered by the no-fault divorce revolution. Like most Americans, Baldwin has probably made peace with no-fault divorce, believing easy divorce to be an enhancement of individual liberty. But Baldwin’s story of his life after Basinger decided she had no use for him illustrates that the opposite is more true. Easy divorce opens the door for an unprecedented amount of government intrusion into ordinary people’s lives. This unacknowledged reality is the subject of Taken Into Custody, by Stephen Baskerville. With penetrating insight, the political scientist exposes the truly breathtaking consequences of no-fault divorce for the expansion of state power and the decline of personal autonomy.

First, no-fault divorce frequently means unilateral divorce: one party wants a divorce against the wishes of the other, who wants to stay married. Kim Basinger dumped Baldwin for no particular reason, unleashed the power of the Los Angeles Family Court system to inflict pain on him and, in the process, inflicted untold damage on their child. Second, the fact that one party wants to remain married means that the divorce has to be enforced. Baldwin wanted to stay married and to continue to be a husband and father. Yet, the coercive and intrusive machinery of the state must be wheeled into action to separate the reluctantly divorced party from the joint assets of the marriage, typically the home and the children.

Third, enforcing the divorce means an unprecedented blurring of the boundaries between public and private life. People under the jurisdiction of family courts can have virtually all of their private lives subject to its scrutiny. If the courts are influenced by feminist ideology, that ideology can extend its reach into every bedroom and kitchen in America. Baldwin ran the gauntlet of divorce industry professionals who have been deeply influenced by the feminist presumptions that the man is always at fault and the woman is always a victim. Thus, the social experiment of no-fault divorce, which most Americans thought was supposed to increase personal liberty, has had the consequence of empowering the state.

Some might think the legacy of no-fault divorce is an example of the law of unintended consequences in operation. That assumes its architects did not intend for unilateral divorce to result in the expansion of the state. But Baskerville makes the case in this book—as well as his 2008 monograph, “The Dangerous Rise of Sexual Politics,” in THE FAMILY IN AMERICA—that at least some of the advocates of changes in family law certainly have intended to expand the power of the state over the private lives of law-abiding citizens.

Who are these people? They are the Marxists, who call themselves advocates of women: the feminists. Unbeknownst to the general public, the Marxists have had marriage in their cross-hairs from the very beginning. Frederick Engels, Karl Marx’s closest collaborator, dreams of the mythic, pre-historical, pre-capitalist time in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884). Not only was there primitive communism in which property was owned in common, but there was also group marriage, in which the collective raised the children. Men and women lived together in harmony in groups, having sex without becoming possessive and without caring about the biological relationship between parents and children. Sin entered this Garden of Eden, not through a serpent and an apple, but through the rise of private property and capitalism, monogamous marriage, and patriarchy.

This background ideology explains why the Left—whether the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 or the Socialist government of Spain in 2005, both of which placed the liberalization of divorce law among their first items of business—has spent so much effort attacking the family in general and marriage in particular. The goal is to return women into “social production” outside the home, where they can be completely independent of the oppression of men. This of course, requires the collective rearing of children. It also requires the obliteration of the distinction between the private sphere of the home and the public reach of the law. Many conservatives, who otherwise are very alert to Leftist ideology, have no idea about this entire effort at centralizing power and insinuating the control of the state into the lives of ordinary people.

Baldwin closes his book with an interview with Jeannie Suk, author of an important 2006 Yale Law Journal article, entitled, ”Criminal Law Comes Home.” In this article, Suk expresses second thoughts about some consequences of feminist jurisprudence. For this reason, Baldwin thought the young Harvard law professor would have some sympathy for his situation. Nonetheless, even this relatively sensible law professor has drunk deeply from the feminist fountains. As Baldwin comments after his discussion with her family law class of eighty students:

I was surprised to hear a number of women and men—many more than I would have expected—say that women generally are at risk of male violence. A few students, male and female, even thought the law should view the sex act as subordinating of someone and should assume that sex is rape unless women explicitly and verbally give their consent.

Note the Marxist undercurrent here: the sexual act is a special case of class conflict, with the man as the presumed oppressor and the woman the presumed victim.

More troubling is what Professor Suk admits in her interview with Baldwin:

Governance feminism is the idea that feminism, which once criticized the law from the outside, is today actually in charge in many places in the law—among police, prosecutors, lawmakers, judges and other legal actors. The feminism that often ‘governs’ today is that strand developed by legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon and that focuses on the subordination of women by men, particularly in intimate and sexual relationships. Her influence on our legal system’s understandings of men and women cannot be overstated.

The overwhelming majority of domestic violence arrests are for misdemeanor crimes, which, by definition, do not involve serious injury…. The definition of violence itself has expanded to include a lot of conduct that is not physical violence.

Family law is an area where we’ve seen feminist developments that prefer wives over husbands and mothers over fathers…. The legal vision of the home has increasingly become that of a man being violent toward his wife.

The legal system has little means to distinguish (protective) orders that actually protect endangered women from those sought for strategic reasons.

Suk doesn’t seem to realize how indicting these statements sound to someone outside the Feminist Legal Theory Game Preserve. In fact, her Yale Law Journal article reveals that feminists specifically attack the lines between public and private in the interests of protecting women from domestic violence.

She at least recognizes that the law has gone too far. But her principle complaint is that women’s autonomy interests are compromised. Once the Domestic Violence Machinery has been set into motion, even the victim herself cannot stop it. She reports that approximately 80 percent of domestic violence victims recant or refuse to cooperate after initially filing criminal charges. But she can’t bring herself to point out the injustice to men of being excluded from their own homes, often with minimal evidence. She has absolutely nothing to say about the harms done to children from being pawns in their parents’ quarrels with each other and with the state. The inertia of forty years worthy of Marxism posing as champions of women is so strong that even someone like Professor Suk cannot bear to distance herself from the term “feminism.”

Likewise, despite the explicit ideological position of the Harvard law students, Baldwin cannot bring himself to be angry:

I was fascinated to hear some of these law students talk about the world as though men inevitably have the upper hand in relationships and women’s fear of sexual violence is prevalent and normal, not unusual. This picture was so interesting and so foreign to me. In my own experience, women have lots of power of various kinds, and sexual power works both ways.

Baldwin seems reluctant to conclude that the feminist worldview is not based upon verifiable facts or empirical evidence. The strongest description Baldwin can conjure against the law students is “fascination” and “interesting.” So mesmerized by the terminology of “feminism” that he cannot see that the attitudes of Suk’s students are the very toxins that poisoned his life.

Fortunately, we have Professor Baskerville as the great theorist of the feminist influence within the divorce-industrial complex. He sees Marxist feminism for what it is: a totalitarian movement that seeks power and control over every aspect of people’s personal lives. The claim of its foot soldiers to be the sole authentic advocates for women has been questionable for some time. But until Americans see that the goal of modern feminism is raw power, even its victims like Alec Baldwin will have trouble freeing themselves from its iron hand.

[This article was originally published in FamilyinAmerica.org and is used here with permission.]

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  • Cheryl Dickow

    The irony of the whole thing is that Baldwin’s biggest ally in what he is experiencing with the family court system may very well have been someone like Sarah Palin — and yet his hate for her, and her values, is palpable.

    This seems to point to two very interesting things:

    One is that Baldwin may very well be the monster that Basinger has painted him to be based upon his inability to even be civil to Palin.

    Two is that you can’t have it both ways — you can’t cry about the family court system while undermining someone like Palin who has done her best to upholds the family unit.

  • steve p

    This article is another example of the excellent journalism found on CE, and sadly lacking in most newspapers and magazines. Which may be one of the reasons for their demise. It would be interesting to see the response ( acceptance / rejection ratio) of major markets neswpapers to an offering of this piece for their Op Ed pages.

    Thank you Dr. Morse and CE.

  • amarie

    This is the first time I have disagreed with an article on CE. Let’s focus on just one piece for now: “visitation supervisors, parenting class instructors, anger management instructors. These are all professionals that most people normally never see, but who have abnormally large impacts on the lives of divorcing families. Think of this: the courts and their appointees are controlling the day-to-day lives of a man innocent of any wrongdoing.” Why are we to assume he is innocent especially after the way he spoke to his daughter! He might speak to her like this on a regular basis.. just this time he was caught. Mea Culpa. Please! How can excuses be made for his bad behavior? Is he not personally responsible for his own behavior whether or not he has been wronged by the court system. Would Dr Morse allow her husband to speak to her or her daughter that way? What if he did; what would she do? Perhaps Bassinger wanted something better for herself and her daughter: a life free from being being screamed at and belittled. It is highly unlikely that this was an isolated incident. Supervised visitation, parenting classes, and anger management courses are not normal in custody cases. They are introduced for persons who have problems like the following: verbal and physical abusers, drug addicts, and alcoholics. What are we doing when we switch the blame for Baldwin’s bad behavior to his ex-wife or the courts?

  • Good article. The Marxist tendencies of feminism is something which does not get much coverage–I wasn’t really aware of this issue.

  • phoebe

    So we have heard Baldwin’s side of the story. We don’t know the other side of things.I would hesitate to elevate him to being just the wronged one although I can sympathize with his dealings in the court system.

  • Terri Kimmel

    I have to agree with amarie. I think this article assumes that Baldwin is innocent and completely truthful in his book. Even under the circumstances described, I still think Baldwin’s inappropriate behavior was strongly indicative if his character and not an isolated incidence.

    Women ARE victims of domestic violence more than men are. It is a common occurrence. Personally, I think our current cultural climate of sexual promiscuity is probably one of the engines driving mistreatment of women. Feminism fails to make this connection and pours fuel on the fire with its agenda pushing contraception and abortion. Feminine dignity has to be recognized and reverenced before there will ever be true moral or social order. Divorce and the disorder that follows it are just symptoms of the disease.

  • steve p

    The article is not about the abuse of women. It is about a system of “no fault” divorce in which a woman can decide she is “not happy” for any reason, or no reason (fault), even if there is no abuse and the other party or parties, when you include the children, gets abused by the legal system. Imposed on the other parties are the significant emotional and financial burdens of maintaining two households, child support and possibly alimony, even when no wrong or harm was done. Any young man who knows or thinks about this legal stacked deck, thinks twice about entering into marriage. And that doesn’t even address the burdens imposed on the community at large.

    steve p

  • goral

    Why are our Catholic women on this website so razor-sharp and balanced?
    As if I didn’t know.
    Dr. Morse just cuts to the marrow in this article.
    The Marxists are absolutely responsible for divorce as it is and the KGB methods of intrusions that are imposed on a troubled family.
    All gov’t is totalitarian in nature and only vigilant citizens keep it in check.

    If they can get their way with families, they win and families lose.
    Dr. Morse knows the history and source of the policies that the law, feminists and anti-God liberals want to inflict on society.
    Of course it’s marketed and sold as the solution to abuse, domestic violence and
    all sorts of exploitations. It’s a red lie but comrade Baldwin bought into it.

    As a left-wing darling of the media he probably thought that he was exempt from being devoured by the divorce devil that his types created.
    Not so, the devil has to be fed. To the system he’s just one of millions of abusive Baldwins out there.

    To those enamored with Marxism it’s all personal. It’s right if it works for them and mistaken when it costs them. It’s man vs. woman and prosperous vs. poor. It’s not about the cohesion of the family but the cohesion of the socialist community.

    Dr. Morse points out correctly that in the family court the feminists rule. We know they all regard the family as a prison for women. The sympathetic face they present to troubled women, those who want a better life for themselves and their children more times than not closes in the woman losing her family her dignity
    and her financial support.

  • Cheryl Dickow


    You have made such an excellent point with this comment. Perfect really!

    “As a left-wing darling of the media he [Baldwin] probably thought that he was exempt from being devoured by the divorce devil that his types created.”

  • Our Lady predicted to the children of Fatima almost a century ago that the “errors of Russia” would spread throughout the whole world. Now we can see it happening before our very eyes.

    I used to think that it “took a village” to raise a child; now I understand that it takes parents to raise a child. This should have been obvious to me as I am the product of divorce myself. It is my testimony that I would have been better off had my parents never divorced, even though my father was a dangerous, abusive drunk. Mom should have gotten me away from him and then stayed single but still married, allowing my Grandfather to step into my father’s parental role. Instead, Mom got a no-fault divorce in Arizona and remarried less than two years later to a man who was just as bad in his own way.

    The system completely failed my mother and me; with some proper guidance at the right time, everything could have turned out different. The Church was nowhere to be found, either. Mom’s second marriage was in the Lutheran church and all it meant to her was that she couldn’t go to Communion. I ended up poorly catechized (this was the 70’s and the 80’s) and it was a miracle of grace that I found my way home as an adult.

    The errors of Russia are atheism and totalitarianism. We have millions of people in this country living in practical atheism, even if they profess a belief in God. And it seems our government is becoming more totalitarian every day. Where is it all going? I don’t know, but we need to pray to Our Lady, Patroness of the Americas, for the future of our country and for the lives of our children.

  • @Terri, Phoebe, and amarie;

    we know of ONE such example of Mr. Baldwin losing his temper with his daughter. If there is in fact a pattern of such behavior, why was only one such message released?

    I know two men who have been hauled into family court. In both cases, it taught them to regard their wives as enemies, when they formerly had not. In at least one case, it taught the wife in question to regard her husband as an enemy, when she formerly had not.

    The second of these related an impression he had: that once the divorce machinery gets started, it is ONLY the respondent who wishes to stop it. Nobody else — not even HIS LAWYER — is motivated to do so.

  • guitarmom

    A case supporting Dr. Morse’s article. My brother’s wife left him — and their two daughters — for a rich man who supplied her with cocaine. My brother wanted custody of the girls, yet the family court wanted to give custody to the mother. They treated my brother as if he were the drug addict. He desperately wanted to keep his two daughters safe from their mother’s destructive life style.

    Only the fact that his wife was so drug addled that she couldn’t keep a sentence straight and kept missing court dates saved my two nieces. My brother has been a fantastic father, although sadly a single one. Yet the courts were on his wife’s side until she had completely discredited herself.