EDITOR’S NOTE: The story below involves an actual Missouri Family Court case; however, all names, dates and other case-specific personal details in the story have been changed in order to protect the identities of the innocent people involved. It is one of several cases about which details have been shared with me by individuals advocating for Family Court reform in the Show-Me State.
In a case that has dragged on for years, a Missouri Family Court judge seems to be doing his level best to ensure three young children end up in the custody of the wrong parent. Hanging over the case is one question: “Why?”
I refer to the biological parents in this case as “Jack and Jill.”
Jack has never been in trouble with the law, while Jill is the violent, drug- and alcohol-addicted, drug-dealing, ex-convict mother of his children.
Several law enforcement agencies in the counties where Jill roams are familiar with the woman. She has attempted suicide more than once, been arrested dozens of times, been imprisoned several times and, when not behind bars, continues to hang out with known drug dealers, prostitutes and other felons, according to court records, police reports and other official documents shared with me by people close to the case.
Attorneys in the same area are more familiar with Jack, because he’s had to hire so many of them. One after another dropped him as a client after he refused to agree to any kind of shared-custody arrangements they had negotiated, Jack said. So far, his latest attorney seems to be more focused than his predecessors on winning. Here’s to hoping that remains the case.
Jill, on the other hand, has somehow managed to keep one attorney at her beck and call for years despite having no legitimate source of employment or place of residence, according to court records. Some think drug money and prostitution revenue pay her bills. Whether the same influence has anything to do with Jack’s “revolving door” of attorneys is anyone’s guess.
In addition to dealing with that revolving door, Jack has fought hard trying to convince the judge to consider the expert testimony of impartial physicians, psychologists and counselors. Why? Because, Jack said, the so-called “experts” tapped by the court to perform interviews, exams, etc., had major flaws.
For example, a child psychologist/counselor who had once lost his license to practice in Missouri due to misconduct, was appointed by the judge to interview/examine the children, according to public records available on the Missouri Division of Professional Registration website.
While relying upon the less-than-stellar court-appointed expert, Jack said, the judge ignored the opinions of several highly-respected physicians at a renowned area medical center. Those physicians examined Jack’s children for signs of sexual abuse and/or molestation and, afterward, advised against allowing the children to be returned to the locations where the incidents of alleged abuse took place or to associate with those who had allowed the abuse to occur (i.e., the children’s mother and her associates).
The judge also ignored letters from others involved in the children’s lives on a regular basis (i.e., teachers, social workers et al). In those letters, copies of which I’ve read, the authors concurred with the medical experts’ shared opinion that the children should be kept away from the mother.
Another area of concern for Jack is the work of the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), a court-appointed attorney whose purported role is to look out for the best interests of his children throughout the legal proceedings. According to Jack, the GAL assigned to his children has not had contact with them — in person or by phone — for almost three years.
To date, Jack’s fight has dragged on for nearly half a decade and has cost him and the members of his extended family who’ve helped him more than $100,000 in attorneys fees and related court costs. That figure, I’ve learned from people with firsthand knowledge of the Family Court system, is not atypical.
In addition to eating up his life savings, the court battle has eroded Jack’s belief in the justice system. Still, he fights, he said, because he knows what kind of future his children are likely to have — one involving crime, drugs, prostitution and violence — if their mother is allowed to be involved in their lives.
As Jack awaits the judge’s ruling in this case, hope seems an extremely-costly pipe dream.
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Should Jack decide to level accusations of wrongdoing or impropriety against the Family Court judge, the GAL and/or others involved in his case, he is not likely to get far. Why? Because two things are working against him:
First, the Missouri House has impeached only two Missouri judges since the Civil War era, and both resigned before they could be removed, according to the Missouri Courts web site; and
Second, GALs are accountable only to the judges who appoint them, according to a Missouri Courts spokesperson with whom I spoke earlier this month [See Transparency Missing in Missouri Senate, Courts for details.].
Hence, the time for Family Court reform is now.
Stay tuned for more stories in my series, Family Court Nightmares.
See also: Lives ‘Turned Upside Down’ in Family Court.