Thursday, May 30, 2013

Child Custody Cases

Last week, I wrote about child custody cases and a little speech I give to the parties to impress upon them that I cannot make the best decision on how they raise their children.  Only they can do that.

Fortunately, most parents can put aside their hurt and anger and make decisions with the best interests of their children primarily in mind.  Unfortunately, those who cannot make for emotional, bitter and difficult trials over which a judge presides.

Minnesota Statutes guide the judge by specifying different criteria that must be examined when deciding child custody issues.  These include, for instance:  Which parent has been the primary caregiver for the child?  Are there differences in culture or religion which should be considered? 

Sometimes, a judge can order joint custody.  This can work very well when the parents generally agree on how to raise their child, and can be flexible when the schedule of their child or the other parent changes.

Sometimes, however, a parent will ask for sole custody, but if they cannot get it, they ask for joint.  I made an order once that provided for joint custody in such a situation.  I had expected that, once the decision was made, the parents could put aside their differences enough to do the best for their children.  I was wrong.  The fighting continued and a year later, they were back in court and I awarded sole custody to one parent. 

I often wish I could see into the future so I could be sure the decision I make is the best one possible. 

One very troubling child custody case involved a mother who claimed father sexually abused their young daughter during a visit.  For two days of the trial, the evidence pointed to the fact that the mother had made this up and convinced the young child to tell a story.  One the third day of the trial, the child’s social worker testified.  It was clear to me that father had, in fact, abused her.

I gave custody to mother and required father to complete sex offender treatment before he could have custody again.  He told me, “Judge, I cannot.  I did not abuse her.”  I presume he did not see his daughter again. 

I believe I made the correct decision, and with the evidence I had at the time, I would make the same decision again.  I must confess that this case has weighed on my memory for the many years since it was decided.

Many decisions we make are hard and weighty.  I have done the best job I could with the information I had available when I decided.  I trust and pray that I have made the correct decision. 

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Next week:  Angels All Too Few