I'm lucky. As a lawyer, sucking marrow from the bones of the fallen and feeding like a lamprey off the lifeblood of the economy, I have the financial wherewithal to allow my spouse to "stay home" with the kids rather than work. (I say "stay home" because her schedule with the kids drives her more miles per day than mine does.) I'm also fortunate to be married to someone with a temperament that allows her to "stay home" with the kids without bleeding out the ears or drowning them in a lake and fabricating a story involving a dark-skinned carjacker.
Many families are not so lucky. 51% of families with kids had two working parents in 1998. Some of those families, like mine, were built by adoption rather than by birth. Some were built by both.
Probate Judge Frank Willis of Van Buren County, Michigan thinks that's just not right. Even though the law doesn't support him, he's out to stop it.
See, Judge Frank Willis has authority to approve — or not — adoptions in his county. And he won't approve them unless the prospective parents sign a "moral commitment" pledging that one parent will stay home with a baby for a year, and that one parent will not work full-time during the kid's preschool years.
Willis requires parents who adopt infants in his county to agree that one of them will be home with the baby during the first year and won't work full time during the baby's preschool years. Willis is perhaps the only justice in Michigan to require such a pledge, which he acknowledges is not legally binding and may be offensive and outdated to some.
Oh, ya think?
Judge Willis' requirement is not based on any federal or Michigan or local law. He's made it up out of whole cloth, based on his personal views on parenting. So far he's gotten away with it. The commitment he requires, if honored, would render adoption impossible for some families. Not everyone can afford to have one parent take a year off work, or work only part-time for a few more years:
For the Shockleys, cutting in half their combined $70,000 income wasn't an option.
"It wouldn't have been possible to pay our mortgage and bills with one income," Allison Shockley said.
Allison works as a financial analyst at Welch Foods Inc. in Lawton, and her husband is a technology specialist at the Kalamazoo Educational Regional Service Agency. They both worked during the infancy of their older son, Jordan, 4, who was adopted as an infant in Kalamazoo County.
Without the Shockleys' signatures on the moral-commitment pledge, though, Willis would not put his signature on their petition to adopt.
And without the signature of the judge in the county where they live, the Shockleys' interstate adoption through a local agency was stalled.
But, Judge Willis says, this is a matter of principle, not of finances.
Or wait. Maybe not.
Willis said he does not require the pledge from adoptive parents of foster children, children with special needs or children from other countries. He restricts the requirement to parents adopting babies born in this country because "this is a babies' market; that's where the waiting list is."
Oh. So it's market-driven. Willis wants adoption of the sought-after babies to be limited to families with sufficient resources to have one parent stay home with them.
Look, there are perfectly colorable arguments that children are better off with one parent at home with them. There's a perfectly colorable argument that people work longer and harder because they want to buy things that aren't necessary. But, to be blunt, that's none of Judge Willis' damn business. There's no law in Michigan restricting adoption to one-working-parent families. It's questionable whether anyone would support such a law, and not entirely clear that it would pass constitutional muster. Willis is an oathbreaker. He took an oath to uphold the laws and constitution of his state, and he's pissing on that oath by using the power of his office to enforce his personal extra-legal social and moral views. That's highlighted by his calling this a "moral commitment" and pointing out that it is not enforceable. That's no damn excuse. He has no business enforcing moral rules from the bench whether or not the parents can break their word without consequence. His job is to enforce and apply legal rules. Willis' behavior is the essence of tyranny and the antithesis of the rule of law. The Court of Appeals and the state Commission on Judicial Performance need to slap him down.
(Via Alicia, a member of our adoption forum.)