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Do Bad Parents Deserve Fair Custody Battle?

By jeannesager |

michigan-supreme-courtThe highest court in Michigan refuses to hear cases all the time, so why are parents’ rights advocates so upset this time around?

Because the father who has lost all rights to ever see his three kids again was denied a lawyer all the way through the juvenile court system. And still the Michigan Supreme Court says they won’t even take a look at Ronald McBride’s case.

It’s hard to be sympathetic to Mr. McBride. After all, he was incarcerated in 2004, on convictions of both first- and second degree criminal sexual conduct against a minor. He’s expected to remain in prison until 2015, by which time the youngest of his three kids will already be 17. In essence – he gave up his rights to raise the three kids when he sexually abused a child.

Yet, the Sixth Amendment “guarantees every person accused of a crime the right to an attorney for his or her defense, regardless of ability to pay, and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees all citizens equal rights regardless of race or national origin.”

And so Mr. McBride might be a criminal, but he’s also an American citizen. And that means he should have a laywer in the fight over his parental rights. According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, the groups that have agreed McBride was wronged range from the state’s attorney general’s office to the Department of Health and Human Services, to the National Association of Counsel for Children and the Public Counsel Project.

They say you must look at McBride as an American citizen with the rights of the Constitution attached first. It’s up to a court to then weigh whether his crime against nature should factor in (and yes, we’d hope they would).

In essence: bad parents have rights too. They have the right to an equal fight for their kids. Whether, in the end, they will be allowed access to those children is another matter. But to protect the rights of good parents, you have to protect the rights of bad ones too.

What happens to a parent who has been wrongly accused? A parent fighting a soon-to-be divorced spouse who is hurling out accusations of sexual molestation and physical abuse . . . which turn out to be completely unfounded? He or she would make for a parent as unsympathetic as Mr. McBride, and yet, in the end, much more sympathetic. And they too deserve the rights to fight for their kid in every way protected by the law.

Because eroding one part of the Constitution – because it’s more convenient, because you can’t develop sympathies for a bad, bad man – allows for the eroding of another, a part that protects the every day citizen.

Do you think McBride deserves his day in court with a lawyer by his side?

Image: Michigan Messenger

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About jeannesager



Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer and photographer living in upstate New York with her husband and daughter, Jillian. She maintains a blog of her award-winning columns at

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0 thoughts on “Do Bad Parents Deserve Fair Custody Battle?

  1. Renee says:

    How exactly was he denied a lawyer? Courts don’t assign lawyers for custody battles. Family court is more than happy to screw fathers who can’t afford lawyers out of custody of their kids.

  2. Janelle says:

    How is this even a question? How on earth is justice better served by depriving anyone of legal counsel? Of course he has a right to a lawyer, it doesn’t matter what he’s done.

  3. Sierra Black says:

    It’s not really a question of what is constitutional. This man was given a lawyer, presumably, for his criminal trial. Family courts are entirely civil, and no one is guaranteed a lawyer for civil matters relating to any subject. It is extremely sad, though, that many parents lose contact with their children when they get caught up in the criminal justice system. In this case it’s easy to imagine that the kids are better off without a pedophile dad in their lives, but in cases where parents are permanently separated from their kids for non-violent offenses or immigration issues, it seems clear that both parent and child are ill-served. A good lawyer could often make a huge difference for these families. I posted about this on my blog awhile back:

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