Sunday, February 6, 2011

James' Story

I think that occasionally a real story about the bias found in family courtrooms is important to highlight exactly how far it can go.  In this story, not even multiple jail sentences could sway the judge to change custody from the mother to the father.  I've inserted a few comments that you can identify by their vivid PURPLE type. 

This is *James' story...

Nearly 10 years ago a little girl was born.  Then her brother was born.  And shortly after that started a custody battle fought over 6 years.  The family courts repeatedly held the mother in contempt for defying their ordered visitation schedule.  They sentenced her to jail on three different occasions.  She never sat a single day in a jail cell and still retains full custody of both children.

The following timeline provides you with a synopsis of their father’s fight:

April 2001--Carrie born

March 2002--Curt born

In the spring of 2003, James was scheduled to go appear before a judge to finalize a court ordered visitation schedule for his two children.  However, James' job required that he testify in Supreme Court on the same day as his custody hearing.  Despite letting the courts know of the conflict, the judge declared that his absence indicated a lack of commitment.  The court order handed down in James' absence granted full custody to Donna with James to have visitation completely at her discretion.

(James knows now what he didn't know then.  1.  Make sure you have your own attorney and 2.  Never trust your opponent's attorney.  I wonder what would have happened if James had been able to be at this first court date.)

In the spring of 2004, Donna agreed to a temporary order that would be reviewed and finalized in court in the fall.  When the fall rolled around, the court date was delayed due to a Department of Social Services (DSS) allegation that James was using crack and molesting his daughter Carrie. James was barred from contacting the children.

Six months later, in May 2005, DSS had cleared James of all allegations and they all went back to court to determine the new visitation schedule.  Prior to court, James, Donna, and their lawyers are able to set up a visitation schedule for the next several months that everyone agrees upon.

(A father never fully recovers from false abuse allegations.  In my opinion this is one of the worst, underhanded "tricks" that an ex can pull.  The effects of an allegation are far reaching - it’s never just a small issue.  You can lose your job, your home and your friends.  More blog posts on this to come.)

One month later, the children meet James’ girlfriend, Jane. Donna stops all visitations between James and the children.

Three months later in September 2005 both parties go back to court and a judge hears both sides of the story.  He puts down a new order that says that James is to provide Donna with a two-week notice when he wants to see the kids. If Donna has no pre-existing obligation, James gets visitation with the children.

(I question the judge's sanity at this point.  It’s been two and 1/2 years and Donna hasn't exactly been cooperative or forthcoming with the children.  Now all of a sudden she's going to change that behavior?)

For the next seven months James requests to see the children dozens of times. Donna allows him to pick them up for a few hours on five occasions.  She refuses any overnight visitation.

In April 2006, James proposes to Jane. When word gets back to Donna, she goes crazy and refuses to let James see the children for 7 months until November 2006 when he is finally allowed to spend one afternoon with the children.  James, Jane, Carrie and Curt go to the park and have a wonderful time.

Finally, in December 2006 Jane decides to see if she can help and calls Donna in desperation to try to agree to get her to modify the court order so that there is a set visitation schedule, rather than the back and forth of James requesting and Donna denying.  Donna finally agrees to every other weekend visitation and a judge signs off on that order in January 2007.

(Jane is a saint.  I don't know many women who would put themselves in the line of fire like she did.  I'm not sure how she did it, but she must have had the angels on her side when she got Donna to agree.)

Things go well until August when James, Jane, Carrie and Curt go on their first family vacation.  When the children return home to Donna she immediately halts visitation, claiming the children have declared they don't want to visit James anymore.

(Typical - if the children have fun then visitation can't be allowed.  Angry mothers want that anger to extend into angry children.  That is very sad.)

A month later, a judge holds Donna in contempt for denying visitations and orders her to pay James’ attorney's fees and gives her a suspended jail sentence.

(I asked.  She ended up paying around $1,000.  Four and 1/2 years and the only consequence is about $1,000.)

Four months later in January 2008 Curt is available for James' visitation schedule, but Carrie starts missing visitations again.

It takes six more months until July 2008 for another court date.  James asks the judge for custody. Instead, the judge amends the court order and gives James more time with the kids, but Donna retains custody. The judge also holds Donna in contempt for the second time, orders her to give up 15 of her weekends to James for the missed visitation and a second suspended jail sentence.

(What is going through the judge's mind at this point?  That it's better to keep the status quo?  How many chances does this mother get before the judge realizes that status quo is NOT WORKING?)

It's now October 2008 and James' has been fighting for five and 1/2 years for a chance to see his children regularly.  Once again, they are back in court and Donna is held in contempt for a third time.  Her behavior at the exchanges when James' would pick up the children would incite drama.  The judge had ordered her to not be present at the exchanges, but she did not comply. 
Over the next two months, the children find out James and Jane are having a baby.  When Donna finds out the exchanges hit rock bottom.  James is now taking a police officer with him to exchanges; Carrie refuses to go and runs from everyone including the officer.  Donna calls DSS again and claims that James’ house is unsafe.  DSS investigates, refutes her allegations and tells Donna to comply with the court order.  Donna refuses to sign their findings and stomps out of the DSS office.

It’s now February 2009 and they are back to court again. Donna is found in contempt for the fourth time in a year and a half. The judge orders her to spend her weekends in jail, but subsequently ends up once again changing his order to suspend her sentence.
“And so here we are. February 2011. Twenty-four months of uninterrupted visitations. Two summers of having 50/50 custody. Our son was born, and Donna didn't spontaneously combust. The kids love and adore James, and I daresay they're pretty fond of me too. Their little brother thinks they're demi-gods, and I think that they would skin graft him onto their backs if they could. Things are good, but five minutes after a scheduled pick-up, I am texting James, "You get them okay?"

I don't know that we'll ever be able to fully relax. We worry about the kids constantly. I am 100% confident that their grades would skyrocket if they lived over here. But we have fought and fought and fought until we are battle-weary. I don't know if we will have strength enough for tomorrow's battle, whatever it may be. Every time something comes up, I think that I can't do it again. I don't have enough strength left to fight again. But so far, we keep on fighting. We look at them and we find the strength from somewhere. I pray we continue to find the strength. But more so, I pray that we won't need it.”

*Names have been changed to protect the family.

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