After experiencing an emotional breakdown at my parenting class, the counselor recommended a book to me. He said that it may give me some valuable “expert” advice on young children living in post-divorce situations. So hoping it would an asset to my case, I asked Jiji to get the book from the college library (our public library sucks).
Let me just say that my preparation for this case makes me feel like I’m writing my senior thesis again. Forget that, this is twice as much work as I did in college. I have a case file that weighs 20 lbs. I thought I was finally free of carrying a diaper bag. WRONG! Its been replaced by a tote full of books, notes, journals, files, legal pads, emails and scads of internet research.
Yesterday I finished a 7-page explanation of why it is in “The Best Interest of the Child” to be with her mother. I looked up Colorado State Domestic Law: Title 14, Article 10, item 14-10-124 and its 13 clearly stated factors in which a custody decision is based on.
I went through each factor and applied them to my personal situation with Rooferman, listing every event which could fall under each category. I refered all events back to the actual journal entry with time, dates and details of the situations. I also made a list of witnesses who could verify the events if we ever get to trial. Basically I made an outline, a friggin’ 7-page outline, and that’s only for physical custody, not “decision-making” responsibility.
I was very proud of my work. Looking at it, I don’t see how a judge could deny my claims that it would be in the best interests of the child if she continues to live with me. Then I read this book.
The book follows the lives of 8 different kids over the course of 25 years. All the kids grew up in a post-divorce situation, and all the kids were involved with some form of visitation and custody through the courts. The book is written by a child psychologist, who after witnessing the effects of custody arrangements, claims that the courts do nothing to protect and nurture the social, emotional and mental development of children. They follow a law, which is based on making sure the parents have equal rights to their children, and thus the children should be better off.
When I read this, my heart sank. All the research I’ve been doing, all the articles and interviews and personal accounts on visitation, custody, emotional growth of a child, toddler’s reactions to be separated from their primary caretaker, verbal and emotional manipulation by angry parents, grown children’s horrific tales of abandonment, detachment, loneliness, pain and suffering is useless in a courtroom. A judge has to look at what’s fair, what’s the law, and what are the parent’s rights. Where do the individual needs of a 2-year-old factor into that? How is that very subtle, yet extremely important issue become part of a court order?
I read all these deeply depressing stories about kids who, even though their parents were unhappy, wanted nothing more than the family to stay together. They were ripped from their former lives and forced into something they hated, feared and ultimately suffered from. The only thing the kids felt from going through the court system was powerlessness.
My daughter is 28 months old. We’ve been on our own since she was 9 months old. I may be wrong, due to my limited knowledge of early childhood development, but I doubt she has any memories of living with her dad. It has always been just us two. I have always been there. Her home is my home (in fact, my car is “her” car).
Every time I read a book on how divorce affects children, I think “Yeah, but I wasn’t married! My daughter has no conscious memory of me moving out of her dad’s house. There is no before and after for her.” All these other kids DO have that memory. My daughter doesn’t.
Suddenly I realized that my daughter doesn’t know her life is screwed up. She doesn’t know she comes from a broken family. All she knows is that her mommy loves her, she goes to school during the day, she comes home and goes to sleep at night. She plays in the park. She sees her grandparents, and once in a blue moon she sees her dad. She is blissfully ignorant. No one has told her that’s wrong. No one has told her she should be seeing her dad in order for her to have a more “normal” life. She doesn’t know what “Child’s best interest” is. All she knows is she feels safe and loved, and that bananas and chocolate soy milk totally rock.
I think about all those kids who don’t have a dad because he died, or because they have two moms, or they live with their grandparents. All those “broken” or “alternative” families. Do those kids feel less human, worse off? Are they just as happy as kids who are forced to go back and forth between two parents because a court decides it?
The idea of this not even being considered when I go to court pretty much floored me. I can’t stop the tears right now (but we all know how much I cry, right?)
LB has never been in Rooferman’s care, just one-on-one, but because her dad’s DNA runs through LB’s blood, he has just as much right to say he’s as competent a father as the next guy. LB’s teacher at daycare as spent more time nurturing her than daddy has. That’s basically what I’m faced with. I really can’t think of anything more horrifying right now.
What if all this research and preparation I’ve been doing is for nothing?