Bob Kerr: Here’s a girl who needs the adults to listen to her
01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, April 24, 2011
She is pretty and smart and wants to be a veterinarian. But she thinks about being a photographer, too, or an artist. And sometimes she wonders if she could combine all her interests into one very full future.
But she is only 11, and on Wednesday she had to negotiate with her father to spend two more days with her mother. She is a child of divorce, and she finds her choices, the really important ones, are seldom hers to make.
She is the person least heard and yet most affected by the endless court battles, the petty skirmishes, the failure or refusal of Family Court to say “enough.”
A few months ago, she put it all down in a letter to the court. It’s a “Dear Judge” letter, and the first line gives you an idea of how some kids in Rhode Island have their childhoods messed up by a system that doesn’t work.
“Dear Judge: When the police came to escort me into my dad’s car, I was talking to the policeman and he said he wanted me to write you a letter so here it is.”
She’s 11 years old and she’s getting advice from a cop, a cop caught in that strange territory where no cop wants to go. This time, it was a visit with one parent that went longer than the custody agreement allowed. So the police were called. It really does get that dumb, petty and hurtful. She ran around to the back of her mother’s house to try to avoid the unavoidable.
Once, she and her sister were in a Stop & Shop and saw their mother and weren’t allowed to run over and give her a hug.
And consider this from a District Court judge who has seen and heard a lot about this girl and her sister:
“I am satisfied that these children have been subjected to inquiries so many times that what they say can no longer be accepted at face value. They have been interrogated by teachers. They have been interrogated by parents, by a stepparent, by DCYF workers, by police people. It’s just dreadful what’s happened to them.”
They are casualties. They have lost so much to the mad competition of divorce and the endless grind of Family Court. They are not the kids they might have been. Being carefree is not easy when the adults keep slamming away and the police show up.
And it continues, as Family Court cases do. This girl has lived with divorce for 9 of her 11 years. It’s really all she’s ever known. Being driven to a police station parking lot in South County so she can be transferred from one parent to the other is just part of growing up
“It’s tough to plan stuff, to know where I’m going to be,” she says.
“I want to go with my mom, but I don’t really have a choice.”
We talked at Brewed Awakenings in South County Commons. She had orange juice. She told me she really, really likes Justin Bieber. She has shirts, posters. Asthma keeps her from playing soccer as she’d like to, but she plays tag with friends. She likes to dance. She isn’t too crazy about video games.
When her grandmother died, she created a website for mourning the loss.
She’s good to talk to. At 11, she seems to understand too well that she’s caught in the middle and that parents, judges, social workers, therapists and the occasional police officer will have far too much to say about where she goes and who she sees.
Divorce runs widely among the kids she knows. They compare notes.
“A lot of my friends have parents who are divorced,” she says. “Some of them get along. The stepparents are nice. They kind of get to choose.”
Her sister stays with her father and stepmother. She moves back and forth, although she says she wants to stay with her mother. That might give her some small sense of stability, but stability does not seem part of the plan. In her “Dear Judge” letter, she says she doesn’t think it’s fair that she can’t go to the place where life makes the most sense.
I have talked to kids before who have endured this unfair, unreasonable, cruel assault on their childhoods. And it is impossible to assess the full damage or know how severely parents have poisoned the family well.
But this girl knows. She can talk about it. And everybody involved — couples in divorce and all the people who work in that gold mine of billable hours called Family Court — should listen to her. They should hear from the most important person in the whole crazy mess. They should learn of the harm they cause by not resolving things, by letting cases go on and on while kids accept more and more mad, crazy stuff into their lives.
Come on, no 11-year-old should have to be escorted by a police officer because her parents can’t agree on the exact minute to move her from one version of home to the other.
That’s nuts. And it’s one more bad sign that young lives will continue to get screwed up by a process that can’t seem to settle much of anything.
"From The Providence Journal on Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011"
Comment by Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall
Thank you Bob for a wakeup call to those in the legal process who are not looking out for these young victims of divorce.
For those of my brethren who disregard children as collateral damage in the legal system, I hope this article causes you to "think twice" about the consequences of your actions to the children each time you take an action (billable or not) in a divorce involving children.
There is no doubt that we need to do more. One child lost in a divorce who might have been saved . . . is simply one child too many.