Monday, April 20, 2009
All But My Soul
(The Connolly Children)
I was asked to consult on a horrific case of a small child whose severe bruises and cries for help through our lovely and thoughtful court system fell on deaf ears.
If you are a parent or a family member of someone going through a nasty divorce or custody battle, I am asking that you pay close attention to this post.
I sat in a conference room watching a video tape of a small child. Happily playing about the house, that is until the doorbell rang. When the adult answered the door and the child sees who is there, piecing gut wrenching screams come out of this child in a way I have never heard before.
"Please Mommy. Mommy. Don't let him take me, please, please help, help it goes on and on for what felt like forever, it was hard for me to be composed as I watched a father take the child up over their shoulder and out to the car. This was not a child over reacting who didn't want to go with daddy. This is a child who feared for their safety, without exception. The tapes included two solid months of video visitation. On this last visit the child returned with severe bruises. You would think the first immediate contact would be the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services, no it would not. The agency is overburdened, no excuse, but it is and in this case the child is too young to specifically give details upon this return visit or any other according to the child welfare worker when the mother tried to make out a report with the agency.
Next step was a forensic child abuse specialist. There are few experts available in the area of child forensics and the waiting list for an appointment takes months.
Throughout this ordeal the mother had been contacting the child's attorney referred to by the courts as a "guardian ad litem" a fee based attorney who is appointed by the courts to represent the best interest of the child or children in divorce cases. And the child's attorney never returned a single phone call to the mother during these two months.
If a mother does not turn over a child where there is court ordered visitation, parent (any parent) will be in violation of that court order and subject to a court fine and arrested.
It took a lot of phone calls and visits to the court house, the old, who you know, not what you know to have visitation temporally suspended. And in this case the child's lawyer had heard the phone messages and decided to sneak a motion in the back door to have another person pick up the child for visitation, this motion has now been overturned. And for the time being the father's visitation has been suspended, pending further investigation.
I do not know how much investigation, if any, is required when you have such strong evidence, but at least he is prohibited from seeing the child, for now anyway.
The child's attorney was just trying to save his sorry butt, instead of protecting the minor child. This is just one single case out of hundred's of thousands that take place in divorce courts across the country.
Yes, I realize there are disciplinary systems in place to deal with incompetent lawyers, but, a system such as this is poor at policing and monitoring themselves throughout the country.
In a divorce where their are children, the first priority should be the welfare of the wee ones. Case after case, clearly that is not happening and it is getting worse as we have seen in the murders of Duncan Connolly age 7 and Jack Connolly age 9, murdered by their father during visatation.
Some things you can do: No matter what your attorney says, make sure you are at each court appearance, even when they tell you it's just a status hearing. You are paying for a lawyer to represent you, You not paying for foot shuffle and lip service that does not represent your best interests.
Create a phone log with a time and date of everyone your leaving message as it pertains to your divorce or custody case and what you said oin a message or to an actual voice.
A simple idea would be to create a log on your computer email it to yourself and then print it off. This is important, it will show the dates and times of each contact and activity regarding your case.
If you suspect child abuse, call the child protective agency in your state and make a report over the phone, Be sure to get the name and extention of the person with whom you spoke.
Next contact your lawyer, explain what you believe is happening. If you feel your not getting anyplace, take the child to your family doctor, or call around to hospitals and ask for a doctor who specializes in abuse cases, if possible. If there are marks on the child take pictures and or use a video camera. Your cell phone may also take pictures consider using that and emailing to your computer.
It's also very important to remain as calm as possible, be patient during this process.
Do not take matters into your own hands and stop visitation let the professionals handle the alleged allegations.If your lawyer is not addressing your needs, not responding or representing you properly, begin looking for a new attorney.
Do not be afraid of the legal system. Do not let your attorney bargain out your life, it may not be in your best interest, only in theirs, as is with many cases.
An excellent book on the subject is "All But My Soul, Abuse Beyond Control" buy Jeannne I. King, PhD. She will also respond to emails and is often hired as a consultant in these cases where child custody and abuse are suspected. Her Website is: http://www.allbutmysoul.net/
I have committed a legal taboo. I do so only for the sake and safety of the children. Disclaimer: I, AM A LAWYER. The Information I have provided is based on my opinion and experience only. It is not to be taken or used as legal advice. It is purely for information to assist you in making informed decision. Please seek proper legal advice from a lawyer.
Author of "Defending Our Lives" (Doubleday), and "Moving Out Moving On" when a relationship goes wrong