I had a week of mostly family law cases, including a trial, a mediation, and several highly disputed hearings. So many stories, so much suffering. The parents are present in the courtroom – the children absent. The laws in my state are very clear. The parenting plan must support the best interests of the child. The custody arrangements are not meant to suit either parent’s particular needs. Judges constantly remind disputing parents of this, but in the heat of the battle most parents keep repeating what they want, what they need, and how they have suffered. It is rare that a parent focuses on the child’s welfare during the arguments. Here are two stories out of many.
This young mother got pregnant, and at first the father said he was going to stick around and help her with the baby. But their relationship turned sour, and she had to leave him. She still tried to get him to come around and visit, but he refused. He didn’t even visit when his son was in the hospital. She suffered, but as she is so hard-working, and thank God her family helped her, she has managed to raise her son to be a happy, sweet little guy. Her struggles have paid off. But now out of the blue, after abandoning them both, this guy shows up and is demanding overnight visits, just because he has a new partner and wants to pretend he is this great guy. She, the mother, has earned her place in her son’s life, but as far as she is concerned, he has no father. This so-called father doesn’t deserve to see his son.
Let’s hear another story, this time from a father. This is a loving man, a caring person. He tried to stay involved in his baby’s life, but her family was always interfering. Eventually, her mother convinced her to leave him and take their child. He tried to visit, but she would always find a reason why it wasn’t the right time. Because they had never been married, there was nothing in writing. So he just kept asking if he could please see his child. He visited whenever he could, but her family had something planned every weekend, and he works all week, so he was just squeezed out of his child’s life. Now he is settled in life, with a good job and a wife with another baby on the way. He wants his first child to be integrated into his new family. He wants his family to be united. He has worked for this. He deserves this.
What do these two stories have in common? Well, these two particular parents are talking about the same child – the child they have in common. The same little fellow who cries when he has to go to his Dad’s is the one who cries when he has to leave his Dad. The same little guy who who cries when he has to go back to his Mom is the one who cries when he leaves his Mom. Because he is being torn in two. He is doing his best to please two angry, hostile people. And he doesn’t have any siblings to share this experience with. The new babies coming have different mommies or daddies and different schedules. He is alone. And the only person in this whole scenario who gets to decide what is in his best interest, and where he will sleep each night, is someone who has never met him, and never will.
As one judge said to the disputing parents this week, “I cannot make you two get along. I cannot make you be good parents. I cannot make you put your own needs aside and look out for the best interests of the child. All I can do is formulate a parenting plan according to law. It is up to you two to actually parent!”