Wednesday, September 9, 2009

And A Little Child Shall . . . Obtain An Injunction

In the continuing search for solutions without apparent problems, the lovely and talented Gretchen Whitmer has done it again. Our erstwhile attorney-general-wannabe has taken laptop in hand, not to play solitaire, but to craft legislation that will permit 12-year-olds to get personal protection orders without telling anyone!

Here's the background -- when children have legal rights to pursue in court (if injured in an accident, for example), they sue through a device known as a "next friend." A next friend is a person who acts on behalf of someone who lacks the legal capacity to act on his or her own behalf. When a child brings a lawsuit, typically a parent or close relative will act as next friend. In many courts, the term "guardian ad litem" (meaning guardian for the litigation) is used.

Personal protection orders are authorized by Michigan law when a court determines there is reasonable cause to believe that the person to be restrained (the "respondent") may commit or threaten to commit an act of violence against the person seeking the order (the "petitioner").

PPOs are available to restrain a spouse, a former spouse, an individual with whom the petitioner has a child in common, a person with whom the petitioner has had a dating relationship, or an individual residing in the same household as the petitioner.

If a child needs a PPO, then the child -- who lacks the legal capacity to sue -- needs an adult to serve as his or her "next friend." Makes sense, right?

Cue Gretchen Whitmer.

On August 18, in the midst of a recession and an impending budget crisis, Whitmer zeroed in on a problem apparently more pressing -- all those 12-year-olds who want personal protection orders -- and introduced SB 734, which would amend the law to say:

If the petitioner for a personal protection order . . . is a minor 12 years of age or older, the petitioner may proceed under this section without a next friend.

So, your 12-year-old can go to court for a personal protection order without you -- or any other adult -- knowing anything about it. Is there any reason for this?

You might say, " Hey, Wiz -- what about a case where a 12-year-old is being abused by a parent? Shouldn't the child be able to go to court without the abusive parent being notified?"

There are a couple of problems with that argument. First, PPOs are ordinarily forbidden where the putative respondent is the petitioner's parent. Second, if the parent cannot be the next friend, there are other adults -- relatives, neighbors, teachers, social workers -- who can be. Third, there are other, more effective alternatives for children in that situation, and fourth, the parent will be notified in the event the PPO is issued, effectively mooting any advantage to a lack of notice.

Ah, but you come back with, "Look, Wiz, isn't the child better off if he or she at least has the option of a PPO?" Maybe, but maybe not. What happens when the child, upset that he can't go to a party, swings by the courthouse to falsely accuse his mother of abuse and to ask for a PPO? Do you think his parents might be just a tad upset when they find out what he tried to do?

"Tsk, tsk," you say. "Most children don't know where the courthouse is, let alone have the wherewithal to get there or to ask for a PPO." Exactly. So why propose to let them do it?

Parents are responsible for their children's protection. If the parents cause harm, they are liable. But these problems are few and far between, and they cannot be remedied by PPOs.

Permitting children to act without their parents' knowledge and participation erodes the family. We would never think of letting children have surgery without parental consent (unless, of course, it's abortion, which the left reveres above all). Why would we consider letting children start lawsuits without their parents' knowledge or approval, or at least the knowledge and participation of an adult?

There is an ongoing legislative effort in this country to circumvent parents and the family, to empower children to a degree for which they are unprepared, and in the process to further degrade the institution of the family. The Great Society programs have destroyed the poor family in America, a development directly related to poverty, crime, and unemployment.

Perhaps this PPO legislation will have no effect at all on the family. Given Whitmer's track record, it will never even see a Senate vote. But we need to stand firm wherever the family is challenged, starting right here at home.

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