Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pruitt & Wallace: "Judging Parents, Judging Place: Termination of Parental Rights in Rural America"

Lisa Pruitt (UC Davis School of Law) & Janet Wallace have posted "Judging Parents, Judging Place: Termination of Parental Rights in Rural America" (77 Missouri L. Rev. (2011)) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Parents are constantly judged, by fellow parents and by wider society. But the consequences of judging parents sometimes extend beyond community reputation and social status. When law and legal institutions get involved, such judgments may result in the termination of parental rights. In these legal contexts, parents’ merits as parents are typically assessed in relation to a wide array of their decisions and actions, including where they live.

Among those judged harshly in relation to geography are impoverished parents who live in rural places. Yet judgments of these parents are particularly unfair in that poor rural parents often do not have ready access to State support in the form of programs that would permit them to be better parents. That is, spatial obstacles may prevent them from meeting their children’s first order needs by gaining access to public benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), housing assistance, and nutrition programs. These parents are often similarly without reasonable access to the types of services and programs that would enhance their parenting skills, either because such programs are not offered in rural places or because the transportation obstacles to reach the programs are too great.

This Essay looks at termination of parental rights in relation to the impractical expectations - indeed, at times impossible ones - that courts sometimes impose on rural parents as a condition for keeping their children. It surveys cases that have used rural residence as a strike against a parent in termination proceedings. While poverty is an impermissible basis for terminating parental rights, cases reveal that place may become a proxy for poverty and be cited as a reason for removal of a child. This Essay disputes the appropriateness of such judgments, particularly in light of the immobility of the poor and the challenges that rural spatiality creates for service delivery and access. In doing so, it highlights the hypocrisy of the State’s judgment of rural parents, including for their failure to avail themselves of public services, even as the State fails to make meaningfully available the very assistance and services that would enable them to be better parents.


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