Against my better judgment, I’ve once again wandered into the family courts in yet another post-judgment war about who gets to raise a broken couple’s children. Once again, I am dumbstruck as I watch experts opine about what is in the best interest of the children. The sheer wastefulness of it all is breath-taking.
My client has custody of his three small children. His ex-wife, who absented herself from the children’s lives, and from the state, has re-emerged, a new husband in tow, and now wants greater access to be a more active mom. She strikes me as no better, and certainly no worse, than most of us. She stumbled along life’s way. Now she’s trying to get back on her feet. There’s no crime in that.
But my client is understandably wary. Can she care for the children when they are in her care? Seemingly small things nag at him. His ex-wife seems unable to do the little things, such as turn up on the right day at the right time to retrieve the children at the school bus site. And then there is the day she totaled her car, sending herself, and all three kids to the hospital. The state charged her with reckless driving.
Again, she’s no better, and no worse, than the common run of us all. But you can understand why my client is petrified about what will happen to the kids he raised while she was rehabbing, remarrying, and otherwise re-tooling for another go at life.
Enter the guardian ad litem. She is sweet reason itself, exuding a suffocating, almost saccharine sweet concern for what is the very best for the children. Her lawyer now appears, too, a warrior on her behalf, helping her to find a voice in a contentious courtroom. It is hard work substituting your judgment for that of the children, and, more significantly, for that of the man who stood by to raise the children himself when momma took a flyer.
My client wants to move with the children to the midwestern city and state both he and his ex-wife called home. They met there as high school sweethearts. Real estate is cheaper there. His extended family can help with the kids while he returns to the labor force. His is a lawyer who once worked on complex financial deals. He’s been home with the kids since the marriage fell apart.
The children’s mother objects. She has no real connection to the State of Connecticut. Her Social Security Disability checks are negotiable anywhere, and her new husband hails, I think, from Florida -- at least the Sunshine State is where the new couple met, while both “recovering” from one thing or another. But she wants to stay put, right here in Connecticut. She’s rented a house, using the proceeds from the dissolution of the marital estate.
Because Connecticut has jurisdiction over the children, a costly relocation study must be done. The court-appointed evaluator dawdles his way through the summer. As of this writing, his report is already months overdue. The GAL, the mother’s lawyer, the therapists for each of the three children all seem content with delay -- anything to buy mom the breathing room she seems to need to try to cobble good days into good weeks, and then, perhaps, a modification of the divorce decree to yield joint custody.
My client, the children’s father and sole supporter, is incredulous. A court appointed guardian, who sought a court order to keep her from having to listen to what he has to say to her, now seeks to sit at the family’s table, calling the shots on how, where and when my client can raise his children.
It’s a bizarre, almost Platonic fantasy, with the state asserting it can determine what is best for the children, and a guardian appointed by the state seeking court orders about what is best for the kids.
The best interest of the child standard is an unworkable standard. Most of us matured under what worked well enough for our parents at the time. Some of us will struggle for a lifetime with the consequences of our parent’s care and neglect. There’s just something wrong with a therapeutic state aiming for perfection in custody fights. Unctuous intermeddling merely compounds the trauma of divorce, and puts the state in the business of raising children, a role for which it is manifestly unsuited.