Kingsley v. Kingsley
The court held that a minor child does not have the capacity to terminate parental rights on his own behalf. However, because a petition for termination was filed on Gregory's behalf by other parties, termination was allowed. In effect, the court allowed Gregory Kingsley to "divorce" his natural mother. The case was part of a trend in courts deciding more frequently in the best interest of the child against parental authority concerning education and health issues. The competency of children to make legal claims on their own increasingly became a subject of intense debate between children's rights advocates and others.
The conflict between children's rights and parental rights has often come to the forefront in American history. During the Industrial Revolution, child labor laws were sought to protect children from parents forcing them to work as adults. A side effect of such debate was the recognition that parental authority was not absolute. Traditionally, courts assumed parents knew what was best by considering children as property and parental rights as paramount. Several court cases in the twentieth century focused on parental rights in choosing how their children would be educated.
By the 1970s, courts began applying "the best interests of the child" principle in ruling against parents. In 1989, the United Nations passed a resolution recognizing the children's rights in freedom from discrimination, health care, education, and freedom of thought. In a political era of emphasizing the promotion of family values by major political parties during election campaigns, the issue of children's legal rights persistently arose along with women's rights, minority rights, and rights of the disabled. In the 1990s, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigned for the acceptance that children were competent to exercise legal standing. The Supreme Court seemingly sought a middle ground in its decisions, basically recognizing the dominance of parental rights except in clear-cut cases where children were in need of protection. Physical abuse cases often presented clear needs to favor the child's best interest, but emotional abuse cases presented much more difficult situations to judge. State and local governments remained inconsistent in their recognition of parental and child rights.
Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994Kingsley v. Kingsley - Significance, A Child As A Person, Improper Parental Comparisons, Impact, Further Readings