North Texas Objectivist Society (NTOS) Message Board › Are you responsible for your offspring?

Are you responsible for your offspring?

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Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 53
Basically, the question comes down to should a man be held financially liable for children if born out of wedlock and especially without his desire or consent. I've been trying to figure this one out for a while, haven't really brought it up for discussion because I wanted to come to my own conclussions first. Sherry found this essay that pretty much sums up a lot of what I have been bouncing off her (and a wonderful critic of marriage which I also agree with thrown in to boot.)
Extreme Makeover

There are some points I would say, put into context, would create a liability, such as agreeing to care for the baby then denying financial responsibility or claiming fathers rights and denying financial responsibility. At the same time, a man has no father's rights unless they take responsibility to care for the child. The mother also has the option to deny him father's rights, but not take his money at the same time.
Just something I've been thinking about, pretty much based on does anything create obligation or duty, and children are the biggest one. I know that this is too simple a solution and there are many case issues to take into account, but overall I think it would be a good starting point. Curious what others thought about this.

- Travis
Sherry
SherryTX
Plano, TX
Post #: 102
I look at this article from the perspective of a Frosted MiniWheat:
The Emotionalist in me hates it
The Objectivist in me thinks it makes sense

I think Joe Duarte looks like a young Lionel Richie.
A former member
Post #: 6
What I envision is a system whereby the government has nothing to do with defining marriage, and issues no marriage licenses. All married couples would draft a contract – which the government would enforce like any other. Standard marriage contracts would cover such things like child support and alimony, if any, in the event of divorce — along with whatever else people wanted to cover (children, finances during marriage, monogamy, complaint-free NFL Sundays, etc.)

I've been saying that for years. It is surprising how many people are coming to this conclusion on their own. My old debate partner from high school is the president of the College Republicans at OSU (or at least she was until she graduated last weekend) and she actually came to this same conclusion from a completely different direction. She is adamantely opposed to gay marriage based on religion, so she would rather have no government sanctioned marriage at all and leave it up to churches and contracts.


I didn't discover the objectivist stance on abortion until very recently. I'll admit that I've been swinging more and more pro-choice on my own over the years, but I've still got my reservations.

I tend to be one of those that thinks abortion should be legal, but still frown upon the practice in my personal life.

I also fall into the camp that isn't sure at what point a child actually becomes a child.

I'm not even going to try to answer the responsibility issues here. Reconciling "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine" and child rearing is something I haven't yet had to face in life, fortunately.
Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 56
I love the marriage as a contract point. It would solve so many issues. I'd even take it to the point of putting a length of contract on it, with renewals. The life long contract I think is a product of religion. (Not that I'm looking for an out!) Oddly enough the first place I had seen this concept myself was in a Heinlein book.

I have not really started to look at abortion issues yet, I'm very pro-choice at this point in time. I'll probably start examining it in the near future but it's a very, very harsh topic ripe with emotionalism. I'm very interested in the parenting aspect of objectivism, and unfortunately since Rand didn't have children, she didn't really have much to write on the subject. I picked the responsibility issue with unwed parents to start with because right now I see society and law forcing obligation and was curious if it would be moral or not or if it should be considered obligation at all.

- Travis
Sherry
SherryTX
Plano, TX
Post #: 103
I love the marriage as a contract point. It would solve so many issues. I'd even take it to the point of putting a length of contract on it, with renewals. The life long contract I think is a product of religion. (Not that I'm looking for an out!) ....

well thats good to know!!!smile
Old Toad
OldToad
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 210
I love the marriage as a contract point. It would solve so many issues. I'd even take it to the point of putting a length of contract on it, with renewals. The life long contract I think is a product of religion. (Not that I'm looking for an out!) ....

well thats good to know!!!smile

Funny, but I notice that Sherry is not so enthused about the idea!

I think one problem with the "marriage contract" idea is that it is like a lot of other agreements that people make: they don’t make a particular contract at all, or even appreciate all the things that might come up and often do (like offspring).

It's like going to a restaurant, sitting down, and ordering a hamburger and a beer. Where's the contract that you will pay at the end of the meal? Maybe you should be able to pay next Tuesday?

When the parties have a dispute to any type of contract, written, or oral, or just conduct together, they take it to the court system. A court looks at the mess and often has little option but to "fill in the blanks" based on normal course of conduct. A court can't make you regurgitate the meal and give it back to the restaurant. That would hardly satisfy the restaurant owner. So the court fills in the blank as to when you have to pay. How? It looks to the legislature or common course of dealing for guidance.

When the future enterprise is so uncertain and perhaps for such a long duration, the appropriate agreement is a partnership. It is for understandings like: let's pool our recources, build a restaurant, try to sell hamburgers, and split the profits and losses until we decide to split. It is impractical to try to agree in advance on all the minutia that might come up, such as the price of the hamburgers, whether or not to offer wheat buns, and the color the napkins, and who knew that Splenda would come up instead of the blue stuff? With a 2,000 page contract, you still would be writing to cover the possibilities and issues that might come up.

Marriage is a species of partnership. In the case of marriage, the whole arrangement is usually not specifically discussed at all before people enter into the deal. People have a hazy idea of what it is from observing family, friends, TV, etc.

In my case, for example, my wife and I have been married more than 20 years. When I was 20, how could I know what that would mean? We could cover issues like splitting rent, and which kind of school the children should go to, and divorce, and child custody. I could have read page after page about the terms of the deal, but it would have meant little to me at the time.

Faced with a parade of marriage messes landing in the courts, the legislature or the courts fill in the blanks with "normal" course of conduct rules and expectations unless the parties have first agreed otherwise in a prenuptial agreement.

If a person wants to change the "normal" marriage deal, there is also often a tremendous resistance to suggesting a "prenuptial" agreement. What's wrong with a 50/50 split? Just try to ask for one, and a typical response is: "What's the matter, don't you trust me? Don't you love me?" And half threat, half real, the petulant: "Maybe we shouldn't get married at all."

And who would really want to get married for just a while? "What's the matter? Don't you love me? Won't you love me forever? Or am I just caught in a hit-and-run?" I would expect that marriage, even in an Objectivist society, would tend to be a promise of "forever." That's what true lovers would want. Not "a three-year primary term with an option to renew for another three-year term on 30 days notice before the expiration of the primary term or it goes month-to-month thereafter." Roll it around in your mind, consider how we could live under such a plan, and see if it makes sense.

As to are you responsible for your offsping? Depends, but usually yes, based on the principle that you are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of your actions. And did you get that in writing that you would not be responsible before the "actions" that brought you to the question? Or will you leave it to the legislature or courts to decide? Just imagine it: "Honey, let's talk about this and what might happen. We'll make an agreement to cover the possible contingencies. I'll get my lawyer. You get yours. We'll start hashing it out, say on Thursday of next week when both our lawyers are available. Several drafts back and forth should cover it. Maybe we can have a deal completed in a few weeks or so, then we can get back to our date. ..." I've seen dates like that, but usually only after the lawsuit is filed, not before!

-- Todd
(Sorry for the excessively long post.)
Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 63
I say the current system is cause of some of the problems our society faces today. It is very quick and easy to get married, you can even go for a fun filled trip to Vegas and skip all the planning and wait. What is a marriage license but a contract that no one cares what it represents any more? There could be standard ones drawn up and those that don't really care about what marriage means and are just wrapped up in the emotion of the moment will sign one anyway, which I think is where it will finally end up residing in such a system. If the contracts are actual contracts with common issues that come up in divorce proceedings regarding children and property are concerned, perhaps there won't be so much leeway for some divorce court to find better mitigation other than what is "normal course of conduct".

For those that do regard the marriage for what it is, the complete and utter sharing of values, maybe if they lay out for good what their plans and expectations are in the marriage at the beginning, there won't be some ugly surprises that arise. If a couple isn't ready to sign a prenup if there is cause, maybe they really aren't ready to be married. I think the divorce rate and flippancy with which a lot of people treat marriage is a pretty good indicator that many marriages are a product of emotionalism. ( I do know the renewal bit in this day and age probably wouldn't work.)

But that is an aside, to the real question at hand:

As to are you responsible for your offsping? Depends, but usually yes, based on the principle that you are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of your actions. And did you get that in writing that you would not be responsible before the "actions" that brought you to the question? Or will you leave it to the legislature or courts to decide? Just imagine it: "Honey, let's talk about this and what might happen. We'll make an agreement to cover the possible contingencies. I'll get my lawyer. You get yours. We'll start hashing it out, say on Thursday of next week when both our lawyers are available. Several drafts back and forth should cover it. Maybe we can have a deal completed in a few weeks or so, then we can get back to our date. ..." I've seen dates like that, but usually only after the lawsuit is filed, not before!

First, I'm not saying draw up a contract before having sex. It is very possible and happens often enough that a girl who wants out of her current family situation she finds unbearable to tell a guy she's on birth control and it's all good and she goes and gets pregnant. Yes he should understand that it is a possible outcome of having sex, but he's been lied to. What of the cases that's on file right now where a woman took sperm from a man and impregnanted themselves and filed a paternity suit and won? You could argue that he should use a condom, but I do believe one of them is about a woman who took the condom out of the trash can afterwords.

If we hold both parties responsible, then does this not grant the father rights over the unborn? Does he have a say then in whether the women is allowed to have an abortion? Would this not take away the rights of the mother to do with her own body as she wishes? Does this not create obligation and duty?

I know in a rational society, most of these issues would dissapear to the point where they are no longer a concern to even think about. Although, even when protection is used, accidents can still happen, and this is far from a rational society.

- Travis


As an afterwords of sort, I would like to put these discussions in context in regards to me. When I've brought similar discussions up with other friends and such, they usual just brush me off as being unemotional, heartless, or wierd to even entertain such thoughts, and I'm not (at least I don't think I am). I've always held that family is a vital and important part of any society, and in many portions I have read, objectivism goes against that on initial reading. I'm simply trying to set aside emotionalism and romanticism to look at these issues in a rational manner to see if I'm just being either.
Sherry
SherryTX
Plano, TX
Post #: 108
I love the marriage as a contract point. It would solve so many issues. I'd even take it to the point of putting a length of contract on it, with renewals. The life long contract I think is a product of religion. (Not that I'm looking for an out!) ....

well thats good to know!!!smile

Funny, but I notice that Sherry is not so enthused about the idea!

This contract thing wouldn't be for everyone. I think prenups are not for everyone, but are a good idea for some. Personally, though, I think the more basic the answer is: how about figuring out that perhaps one may want to just be a bit more careful as to whom to "celebrate" their values with.

Actually, I was quite appalled when Travis first started talking about something like this (I think it was first brought up when reading something about a men's version of roe vs wade case on another board where a guy was tricked into paying child support. Very distrubing case.). Anyhoo...not so disturbing any more to discuss. (Travis being locked into lifetime contract with death penalty clause and all.)

Edited to add: Travis is locked into the marriage of his own free will. (Death penalty clause was just a joke...I know you guys probably will get that...but just in case the tone of my font was missed...wanted to make sure I made that clear.)

This brings up an interesting topic that probably deserves its own thread of how studying objectivism causes people to reevaulated their life and those they have in it...how it can change relationships...etc...etc..etc...
Old Toad
OldToad
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 214
Hi Travis,

This is a great topic, and you are asking challenging questions. This is some of my own thinking on the issue.

... There could be standard ones [marriage contracts] drawn up and those that don't really care about what marriage means and are just wrapped up in the emotion of the moment will sign one anyway, .... If the contracts are actual contracts with common issues that come up in divorce proceedings regarding children and property are concerned, perhaps there won't be so much leeway for some divorce court to find better mitigation other than what is "normal course of conduct".

Yes, but then the contract would be voluminous because the "common issues" that come up in a marriage are so numerous and varied. It would be so voluminous and detailed with "what ifs" that no one could bear to read it. And the "marriage contract" already exists in that form -- check out the compilation of laws and court holdings regarding marriage, divorce, and children -- it goes on for volumes and volumes. Thus, the "standard marriage contract" already exists, and people do sign up without reading all those volumes.

To deal with such a problem of voluminous concretes requires thinking in principles. It reduces down to the principle that marriage is a "total" partnership intended to be for life. Normally, people expect that little or nothing is to be held back from the marriage partnership, and if it ends before death, there is the expectation that the marriage assets then be divided equally. In sharp contrast, that is precisely what most "prenuptial" agreements try to avoid -- they do not set forth the agreement in positive terms, but try to hold something specific back in negative terms from the marriage partnership -- and that is why there tends to be such resistance to prenuptial agreements -- they are less than the ideal of the total marriage commitment.

Observe, for example, that the suggestion for a marriage contract with "renewable terms" is actually not based on any principle of marriage, but rather its antithesis -- uncertainty in the commitment to the lifelong relationship. In fact, it would cut back on the normal expectations of the total commitment to trying to build a lifelong relationship. In that sense, it is a negative against the concept of marriage, and any spouse would be right to be concerned about the suggestion. It is like the difference between renting month-to-month vs. buying a house -- renting reveals much about one's commitment. (I know you are not seriously advancing this for yourself and Sherry.)

For those that do regard the marriage for what it is, the complete and utter sharing of values, maybe if they lay out for good what their plans and expectations are in the marriage at the beginning, there won't be some ugly surprises that arise.

But except for the omission of being a lifelong committment to the sharing of values, this is the point of a marriage partnership, as opposed to a detailed contract spelling everything out and trying to avoid any surprises. In this regard, how could a couple possibly plan out their expectations for a lifetime? For example, if Julia and I had tried, twenty years ago, we would have both got it all wrong! We never could have anticipated our lives as they are twenty years later, nor could we rationally expect to be able to map out our next 20 or 50 years together (hopefully).

When a marriage sours, however, the partnership must be dissolved, at whatever simple or complex situation that may have developed over the life of the marriage. It's almost always ugly and filled with surprises -- someone usually feels betrayed in the relationship.

If a couple isn't ready to sign a prenup if there is cause, maybe they really aren't ready to be married.

I think the reverse is true: In most cases, a “preup” is an attempt to reduce the total commitment of marriage, which is the very reason it is so suspect under the concept of a “marriage” partnership. Someone who suggests a prenup is probably not ready to be married. (It may be appropriate in rare cases, for example, where one person has a billion dollars already in the bank and the other has no financial assets -- but that is beyond our scope here.)

As discussed above, everyone who gets married does “sign up” for “a marriage contract” of sorts (i.e. the volumes of statutes and prior court holdings), but in principle they know marriage is a serious, total partnership intended to be lifelong. It is normally is expected to require of both parties a total commitment and fidelity to that primary relationship.

First, I'm not saying draw up a contract before having sex.

Of course not -- me neither. But that is another point. When something goes "wrong" or there is a "misunderstanding" in a relationship (sexual or otherwise), in the absence of the parties having made an express contract for themselves, how can a court of justice resolve the situation? By what standards? Even a court in an Objectivist society would have to resort to some community standards, norms, or statutes to fill in the blanks of the parties relationship that the parties themselves chose to "skip" in their haste to enjoy the moment.

What of the cases that's on file right now where a woman took sperm from a man and impregnated themselves and filed a paternity suit and won? ...

This is part of my "depends" answer. Your hypothetical examples are not the normal course of events, but they are shocking precisely because they are abnormal in that a fraud or theft has been committed under such intensely personal circumstances. In any such a situation, however, a person should not be bound by a contract or course of conduct when induced to enter it based on the lies or misrepresentations of the other party. A fraud is a type of force, negating a person's own judgment in entering the relationship or contract, and hence, his responsibilities or obligations under it. Similarly, a person should not be responsible for the traffic accidents caused by someone who steals his car (or the children of someone who somehow steals his sperm and impregnates herself).

I know in a rational society, most of these issues would disappear to the point where they are no longer a concern to even think about. ...

Actually, I think that many of these problems would still be presented to society, the legislature, and the courts to resolve. But using individual rights and, ultimately, reason as the standard, the society would be much more rational and consistent.

-- Todd
Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 68
Bah, I have been thinking about how to respond to the marriage part. You're the first person who has been able to give me a good rebuttal. I'll get back to this one in a few.

- Travis
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