So many dramas are set in court houses. Some of the action is in a court room, some in judges’ chambers, some in corridors and in conference rooms, some on the steps or sidewalk outside.
TV and movies use court house settings a lot. We see hearings and trials, Law and Order stuff, to the point that we know the drill and the lingo.
We might get the impression, from the court events we see on TV, that court room drama is all about crimes. Some of it is, but by no means all.
Civil matters carry their share of angst, tension, dread, regret, foreboding, shame, suspense, guilt, embarrassment, resentment and anger.
There are victims, in civil court matters. Some are very young indeed, tiny babies. Some are old enough to be quite aware of what is happening, and to feel as if they are parties, even though they are more like the objects of the wrangling going on around them.
Some victims are much older—so old that they are deemed incapable of handling their own affairs as those little babies. Some of those elderly victims are assumed to be as incapable as infants of tender years, when it comes to knowing what is in their best interests. Some of the aged victims, or objects of wrangling, have substantial assets. Some of them had, until others stepped in to manage the affairs of the old dears. Sometimes it seems nothing makes relatives more concerned for the best interests of aged kin than excess assets.
Recently when I had occasion to spend some time “upstairs” in the Court House, I caught glimpses of the relationship tangles that we like to think courts help unravel. But what an arcane, awkward, torturous and inadequate process it is!
There was a very young man, appearing to be just barely an adult as opposed to a juvenile. When he arrived he was carrying a sort of basket which turned out to be a baby carrier. Inside was a tiny morsel of humanity.
He told me her birth date, about a month ago. He cared for her tenderly, and appeared to be practiced in this. He confided that he has another daughter, a toddler.
I did not ask what brought him and his baby to court. Soon he was joined by some older adults, who exhibited lots of interest in and fondness for the baby. I offered to adopt her if she should become available, and all were adamant that this would not happen. The adorable baby did give me a careful looking over, but she did not indicate that she would like to leave her present caregivers.
Not that she would have much to say about it, or any other matter concerning her care, custody and support, under circumstances where grownups cannot agree or collaborate concerning her wellbeing and how she is raised.
Nearby a man waited for his attorney, who spoke with him a few seconds and then left on some errand or other, promising to be back shortly. The client seemed at once indignant, disconsolate and resigned.
He had plenty of opinions about the system, and a conviction that it is wrongheaded at best, wicked at worst.
He doesn’t believe in divorce, yet someone was divorcing him. He does not believe the system should let her out of her vows.
I thought of the Biblical explanation concerning why the Hebrew nation was given a mechanism for dealing with marriage covenants gone awry—and how this was later said to be because of the hardness of human hearts. Yes, there it is, in a nutshell. But our system of law has no remedy for that—only very poor ways to try to minimize the damage.
Collateral damage results from shattered relationships between parents of minor children. Just how extensive this can be, and how protracted the process of containing it can become, given the intransigence of one party or both, was demonstrated in another vignette.
Parents were within a few feet of each other, too estranged to make eye contact. Their children were kept closely controlled by one parent, and seemed to be making a great effort to follow a drill they had learned. Do not look at him, and do not look at that “other” grandmother.
Yet they stole shy glances at her, as she gazed longingly at them. Like the father, she has long been prevented from having any meaningful contact with those children. Her son has had an order that says he gets to see his kids, but he has been unable to get “enforcement.” What a word to use for “parenting” or “time to be with my kids.”
The truth is that, with all the improvements in custody law, some judges haven’t caught on, and some lawyers are less than diligent, and the process is terribly slow and not good at sorting things out.
A two-year hiatus in seeing a parent creates what is called parental alienation: serious damage to an important relationship. That this is heartbreaking for the parent is obvious. But what is worse is the emotional damage inflicted on the child. Too often, enmity spoken or telegraphed by the “parent in possession” is another devastating alienation weapon.
Children are entitled to know and spend time with their parents—even if the parents can’t or won’t be together. It is in the best interests of a child to know his/her parents, both or each, and to spend time with those parents, both or each. We’re not talking about dangerous felons who have produced offspring, but about regular folks, with their flaws and their virtues, who have children.
I hope the month-old mite of a girl will not be used as a weapon, nor a shuttlecock or spoil of war. If the system performs as badly in her case as in so many others, she could be back in this waiting area outside a courtroom, while adults continue their heart-hardness, over and over, year after year.