Stephen Baskerville: A Man With A Mission

baskerville.jpgStephen Baskerville’s book Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family is a forceful statement of the case against existing divorce laws and the family court system that enforces them. Divorcing fathers who feel victimized by the system will find a lot to agree with in Baskerville’s catalog of injustices, but not much in the way of practical help.

 

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Stephen Baskerville is a man with a mission. He is outraged by the current system of laws and practices surrounding divorce, which he sees as the single most unjust aspect of American culture and jurisprudence.

Thus he is on a crusade to educate men in particular, and the public in general, about the evils he has discovered in what most people assume to be a fair and balanced system. The gravity of his vision is clear in his half-ironic advice to men who are considering marriage: don’t, and don’t have children, either.

In his 2007 book, Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family, he lays out his case clearly and in great detail.

Briefly, his major points are these:

• The system of “no-fault” divorce, as it has existed since the 1960’s in every state, enables and even encourages women to exploit men, with the active assistance of government bureaucracies.

• The family court system, lacking essential checks and balances, often punishes (by fines and penalties and even by confinement) men who are merely accused of failure to provide support or of abuse, even mental or emotional abuse, without confirming evidence and without due process.

• The image of the “dead-beat dad” is a deliberate falsehood, created to justify a set of laws that encourage what amounts to extortion of money from men who want to maintain any presence at all in their children’s lives.

• The image of the husband as a batterer is equally false, since wives are just as likely to commit violence as their husbands. Furthermore, the vast majority of instances of violence by men are in response to post-divorce threats, from the ex-wife or from the courts, to keep the father from his children.

• These attacks on men are part of a larger campaign by radical feminists to deconstruct the traditional concept of marriage and to undermine the value of men not only as fathers but as forces in society.

Importantly, Baskerville makes it clear that this is not strictly an American problem. Many of his sources, and many of his anecdotal illustrations, are from England, Canada, and Australia. The outlook in these and all countries with similar divorce laws, as he sees it, is bleak, unless the public can be persuaded to make essential and radical changes.

These recommendations are presented in concise form in the final chapter of Taken Into Custody. First, there must be limits to no-fault divorce. “Reforming [these laws] to allow divorce by mutual consent . . . but placing reasonable controls on unilateral and involuntary divorce is imperative when children are involved.”

Second, the way courts approach the issue of custody of children must change. The normal situation should be that custody is equally shared by the mother and the father, rather than the current norm of presuming that the mother should have custody unless she is obviously unfit, and that the father’s right to access to his children is secondary.

Third, allegations of abuse, whether sexual, physical, mental, or emotional, must not be dealt with under family court procedures, in which husbands are often presumed guilty simply because the accusation is made, and forced to “prove” their innocence.

Instead, such accusations must be handled under our existing criminal laws, which provide for the presumption of innocence and require the accusing party to provide enough evidence to satisfy a jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is especially true where such accusations are used by women to deny the father’s access to his children.

It is fair to say that Professor Baskerville approaches this subject from a solidly conservative standpoint. He makes no pretence of scholarly objectivity, but sets about making the case for his point of view as forcefully as he can. Indeed, the factor which does most to undermine his ideas is his pugnacious tone of voice; he tends, for example, to characterize those who disagree with him and their ideas as “radical” or even “reminiscent of the Soviet forced labor system.”

His documentation references mainly conservative journals and publishers; Cumberland House, the publisher of this book, is itself known for the purity of its commitment to conservative ideas. Whether Baskerville’s book will succeed in convincing readers that action is needed will depend in part upon whether they are predisposed to believe him.

He has done a thorough job of presenting his case; those who see other sides to the issues he raises may or may not be swayed by his presentation. It is interesting that after all of his forceful – even “outraged” would not be too strong a word – description of the existing system and its many injustices, Baskerville’s tone in the final chapter, where he outlines his recommendations, is almost wistful.

There is, he implies, not much that a man can do, in the short term, to resist the inevitable. For that reason, Taken Into Custody may be an emotionally satisfying read for men who find themselves navigating the treacherous waters of divorce, but they may not find much practical help in its pages.

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