Rhetoric, divorce and international human rights: The limits of divorce reform for the protection of children

This paper, written for a Symposium, identifies and challenges three premises contained in the Symposium's title, "Divorce Reform for the Protection of Children." First, it tacitly assumes that divorce reform can protect "children" in general, rather than a relatively small, and quite demographically distinct, population of children in particular. Second, it assumes that divorce itself poses a danger to these children. Third, it assumes that the law should step in to avert, or at least manage that danger. This paper interrogates each of these propositions. My project may strike some as painfully obvious. Of course there are bigger, broader threats to American children, but this conference is not about the top five threats to American children; it is about divorce. Surely we can make divorce less difficult and less painful for children and surely that is worth doing. There is an impressive assembly of brainpower in this Symposium devoted to precisely that. But my thesis here is that first, there are built-in costs and built-in limits to this particular approach. Second, both can be constructively addressed by re-situating the discussion of the protection of children in the broader rhetorical framework of human rights law.
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