I will arraign them straight

It’s a few years late, but I just stumbled upon a news article about a 12-year-old girl who sued her father for grounding her from a school field trip. The Quebec had custody over his daughter after he separated from his wife. After he found his daughter exploring chat sites he explicitly forbade her from, as well as posting provocative pictures of herself, he refused to sign a field trip form for her. She retaliated by going to her parents’ divorce lawyer. He took her father to court, which declared his punishment was “too severe.” He appealed the decision and lost again. Now, the girl lives with her mother and  hardly speaks to her father anymore.

“Either way, he doesn’t have authority over this child anymore. She sued him because she doesn’t respect his rules. It’s very hard to raise a child who is the boss.” — Kim Beaudoin, the father’s lawyer

When looked at with Lear in mind, this girl really should consider herself lucky; at least she wasn’t disowned and banished from the country. Although this father is far more lenient than Lear, and the ultimate consequences of his decision much less destructive, this is still a story about a father-daughter relationship destroyed by one act. Just as Goneril and Regan diminish Lear’s train because “His knights grow riotous, and himself upbraids us/ On every trifle,” (I.iii.6), this girl ignored what kindness her father probably showed her in the past and went for revenge.

Another parallel between the two stories involves the law. Determining the law’s place within the family is a tricky problem, one that we’re facing more often recently. Family structures are more diverse than ever, which means legal issues regarding adoption, custody and inheritance aren’t as black-and-white as they once were. The legalization of gay marriage alone is causing unprecedented legal conflicts recently. The law and its relationship with family ties is a recurring theme in Lear’s story; he has to decide how to divide his kingdom withing a male inheritance legal system, and when he relinquishes decides “To shake all cares and business from our age;/ Conferring them on younger strengths, while we/ Unburthen’d crawl toward death” (I.i.38), he doesn’t stop to consider what that powerlessness truly means.

The father in this 2009 news article was “flabbergasted” at the court’s decision. “Is this what we want in our society? Laws are supposed to reflect our values. And if the courts aren’t reflecting that, maybe the government will, to prevent children from going this way,” his lawyer said.

Some questions to consider with all this in mind: How do we view control in parent-child relationships today? What do we think about punishing children for their misconduct? Is our outlook shifting? Where does the law come in to all of this? What role does/should the court have within a family?

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