Two kids, two states, one court
01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, November 2, 2008
The brother and sister, ages 12 and 14, attend school in Concord, Mass., which boasts one of the best school systems in New England. But they aren’t in Concord right now. They’re in Rhode Island, in foster care. They were ordered there by a Family Court magistrate in one of the truly crazy twists in the divorce wars.
For deep down, vicious, vengeful behavior, it’s tough to match Family Court. It is there that people who were once crazy in love turn just plain crazy.
And too often, kids get caught in the middle. Kids get used. Mothers use them against their fathers. Fathers use them against their mothers. Judges use them to make a point or assert their authority.
Now, we have interstate transfer of kids for reasons that are difficult to understand. Their father says it’s to punish him for challenging the court. Their mother’s lawyer says it’s to remove them from a hostile environment and put them in a neutral setting.
The court itself can’t comment, says Chief Justice Jeremiah Jeremiah, because the custody case is ongoing.
But it’s going to hurt the kids. How could it not? They are pulled from their familiar surroundings and taken to a strange and temporary place to wait out the pleading and pondering of Family Court. A letter supplied by their father, a school adjustment counselor at Concord-Carlisle High School, says, “It is not trivial to interrupt a student’s academic year by changing high schools.”
The counselor also expressed concern that the 14-year-old daughter’s learning and self-esteem would be damaged by moving her from her school in Concord, to a temporary school in Rhode Island, then back to Concord.
But such potential damage is apparently not a major concern of the court as it chooses to move the children as part of a case that is more than four years old and will no doubt get much older before there is any real resolution.
A spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families said she could not even confirm that the two children are in state custody or what steps have been taken to make sure they receive an education while they’re here. There are no charges of abuse or neglect, the two things which usually bring the DCYF into the mix.
All kinds of issues spill from this custody case, which drags on as have so many others in Family Court, draining financial and emotional resources. Perhaps the biggest issue is parental alienation, a tricky patch of legal ground in which children are sometimes told their feelings are not what they think they are.
Do parents deliberately try to portray their ex-spouses as bad people in front of their children? It happens. Do some children genuinely, and for very good reason, dislike or even fear one parent and want to stay with the other? They do. Deciding where alienation leaves off and honest adolescent feeling begins is the kind of challenge that keeps psychologists working in the courthouse. And it is at the heart of this case, which has moved between two states and left no one looking particularly good.
The father, who remarried, has custody of the children, and the mother has supervised visits at her home in Rhode Island.
It is during the visits that things get ugly. The father is ordered to bring the kids at an appointed time. The kids refuse to visit their mother. They return to Concord. The court tells the father that he faces jail if he does not force the kids to visit their mother. The kids visit their mother.
It was during a hearing last week on whether the father should be held in contempt for not fully complying with the visitation order that the magistrate suspended the proceedings and ordered the children held in foster care.
After yet another hearing on Thursday, an agreement was reached under which the children will remain in state custody through tomorrow, then return to Concord with their father. Supervised visits with their mother will continue.
Maybe, when this case is truly over, Family Court officials can explain what a week in foster care, and a week out of school in Concord, did for two kids who have already spent a lot of their young lives crossing and re-crossing an emotional divide that others have created.
There is surely more to it than simple judicial muscle flexing.
I am a father who has been alienated from his children. In my case the reverse of your story. Why don't they throw the father in jail for disobeying the court order? I don't have all the details but my ex tried similar tricks on me as well. The kids are the big losers for certain. It almost makes you think prospective parents should have to take courses and pass tests before they either get married or have children. The law needs changing to a presumption of equal/shared parenting upon divorce or separation. That will help. Any allegations of abuse should require the same evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, as would be given in criminal court.