Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What Would You Do?

Some friends of ours in Podunkville are divorcing, and their three daughters are really suffering and having many behavioral problems at school. Thankfully their dad has taken the middle daughter's Kindergarten teacher's advice to get the girls into therapy. I'll cut to the chase: I think their dad is a far better parent to the girls, and is the only one of the pair who truly wants his children in his home as much as possible. Their mother, on the other hand, does not really want full custody of her girls, but also does not want to have to pay child support. I will spare you the gory details, but I think she is an alcoholic. She is also about to get married to her supervisor, with whom she was carrying on an extramarital affair... and mom's new fiance has been divorced twice because he was unfaithful to his last two wives.

The dad has asked me to fill out a form for the girls's Guardian Ad Litem, which asks for honest feedback about what I have seen, heard, and believe to be in their best interests. So if I'm honest, I'll be throwing mom under the bus. And I'm a little worried she might make a smear campaign against me for speaking out. And yet the truth needs to be told. But few of us in town are willing and able to tell the truth because of where we work, and our fear of whatever psycho shit mom might do.

If you were in my shoes, what would you do?


nej said...

That's a tough one. But as a child of an f'ed up divorce scenario and a carrier of the lifelong baggage that goes with it, I would be as honest as you're are comfortable with, and then maybe a little more honesty thrown in there for good measure. Because there is nothing worse than being raised by the wrong parent.

Jac said...

I would tell the truth. I would really, really focus on the "best interests of the child" since that is the standard for family law cases. I would phrase everything in that context. I would stay away from blaming language and use factual language (i.e. rather than "Mum is clearly an alcoholic"), say on x, y, and z occasions I have seen mum... (imbibe too much, do this weird shit, etc.). Stick to facts with examples and dates as much as possible so if anyone tries to throw you under the bus, you can say "what did I say that wasn't true?".

I don't envy you one bit. Maybe it would help to focus on the fact that life might be a little hard for you for a while in a town like Podunkville - but just imagine what it will be like for those poor girls.

mom2boy said...

Not having custody doesn't necessarily mean having to may child support. If the dad wants the children and he can support them financially, she doesn't have to. My step father felt so strongly that his ex-wife was a danger (mentally, emotionally) to his son that he sought full custody and agreed to pay her alimony in exchange. She took the deal. Disclaimer - this is anecdotal. I have not taken family law and am another year and a half away from sitting for the bar - universe willing. :)

Claudia said...

I would hope that I could do what the societal animals in other species do, and shun the wrongdoer.
If you speak up (diplomatically) about what psycho mom does, hopefully others will be emboldened to follow suit. It is the right thing to do, and the girls and their father deserve that.
But I sympathize with the difficulty of it.

May you have the courage of your convictions.

hush said...

That's four votes for honesty. I concur. I'm waiting for a call back from one of my lawyer friends who will tell me how to best state my case to the kids' GAL. Wish us luck!

blue said...

Late to this one, but I thought I'd chime in anyway, and give you one more big vote for facing this one straight on.

I just want to say that my first gut reaction, wrong as it is, would be to reel back and want to run away from such involvement, even though it's sort of obvious what needs to be done.

Just as a side note, though, isn't it strange (ironic, whatever) that the one uncomfy area for you in that funny town is rearing its ugly head right now? And in a way that isn't trivial and can't really be ignored, forcing you to be, perhaps, more outspoken than you would have if the safety and happiness of those little girls weren't at stake?

Good luck and remember, that dad ask you, not someone else, for a reason.

caramama said...

Good luck! That is so tough. But you speak up for those girls and the dad. They deserve it.

I'd probably say more, but I just want to say Amen! to everything Jac wrote.

Cloud said...

I'm late weighing in (we're on vacation at my folks' house and I'm not blogging much while here), but I agree with everyone else- be honest. You'll feel better about yourself later if you are.

God forbid something bad happens to those little girls while in the care of their mother... but if it did, and I hadn't spoken up when I had the chance... I'm not sure I'd ever really get over that, you know?

hush said...

Thank you for 3 more resounding "tell the truth" votes! By way of an update, my friend who is a family lawyer walked me through the GAL regulations for our state (WA), and also our child custody laws. Our state is apparently one of the few that does not start with a presumption of joint custody (which is hard to overcome), instead our state does a "best interests of the child" analysis just like @Jac suggested. Which gives folks in my shoes an opportunity to have a real impact.

My friend said I should not fill out the form yet, but should instead request an interview with the GAL (which the form indicates is possible and gives a phone number). So I called the GAL and left a message, and she called right back. When I spoke to the GAL, I started off by saying "I am really afraid of speaking to you on the record..." and she said that others had called her and expressed the same concerns, so she requested to the judge that she be allowed in her GAL report to make general statements in general terms, but if one of the parties ever asked for her notes she'd have to provide them.

My friend told me I needed to make sure I say that "I believe mom should be evaluated for potential chemical dependency issues." Which it turns out was all I needed to say. The GAL hinted that I wasn't the first to tell her that, and that the mom hadn't given the GAL's forms to anyone to complete on her behalf. I left the door open for the GAL to contact me if she needed more but she sounded satisfied and I feel so much better about dad's chances and the girls' future.

caramama said...

That's great to hear! And go, you! It can be so hard to speak up when fearing retribution of any kind. But it's a better place when we all do. I'm so glad that you and others spoke up.

Anonymous said...

As someone who grew up with an alcoholic mother (who, after my parents separated, had primary custody of me), bravo! You did the right thing, and it took bravery on your part, but those girls will be indescribably better off because of it.