Imagine you are a young dad (that would make you “Dad” in our story). You just found out that your ex-girlfriend (“Mom”) is pregnant. You are dubious but you need to find out. So, you ask your friends, family, pastor, and the cashier at Wendy’s what to do and after some soul-searching you go on over to the Family Court and request a DNA test. Have to be sure, right? The results come in and, mazel tov, you’re a parent. Now you have a Daughter, and a direction. You do what you can do. You move from New York to Rhode Island to be near the little girl. You miss the bagels. You ask to be put on her birth certificate. You have her last name changed. You try to help Mom as much as you can. You find your way, in your way. Then you meet granny.
The odds are stacked against you. Mom lives with her mom (“Maternal Grandmother” or “MGM”). MGM doesn’t like you. MGM never liked you. And now Mom us under MGM’s roof following MGM’s rules. Under her control. Dad still tries to see Daughter but, circumstances. Tough going to a home where someone makes it painfully obvious that you aren’t welcome. And when MGM lays down the law and refuses to let you see Daughter unless it is supervised by her and at her house (sounds like fun! Bring dip!) you go awhile without being able to see your child. And worse – the child goes for a while without seeing one of her parents.
Then, in the way of the world filled with evil grannies, a bad situation gets so much worse.
During this dark period when Dad has little-to-no communication with MGM, Mom, or Daughter, Mom suddenly dies. The child is 1 ½ or so at this point and, as Mom was living with MGM, and as MGM never thought much of Dad, MGM forgets to tell Dad that Mom died. For five months.
What MGM does do, however, knowing that she has time to move unchecked, is run to court and file to become the custodial guardian of the child. After all, the child “lives” with MGM by default, since Mom and Daughter lived with MGM before Mom passed away. Dad has been pushed to the outside. So MGM tells the Court that Mom has died and fails to list the Father on her pleadings. Says there is no other parent even though ten months prior Dad had the DNA testing done and was adjudicated the father. That way, MGM doesn’t have to serve anyone. The matter is uncontested. A judge looks at a toddler whose mom died and whose father is “unknown” (far as the judge knows) and grants the Grandma’s petition. Why wouldn’t he? What a heart-warming story. Thank goodness this grandmother was here to take this poor child in. Fortunate and fortuitous.
And just like that, readers, a child loses a mother and a father in a matter of months.
Now, if you have been reading this blog or have ever met me or had coffee with my mom you know that I am not the sentimental type. I didn’t start out this way. After a decade of family law it takes a lot, like a real lot, to genuinely move or anger me. I have seen people do the very worst to each other in the most blatant and passive-aggressive ways. Just this week a mom (lower case because different mom) called child services and the police on a dad eleven times because their little girl got a lollipop stuck in her hair. I’m jaded. Truly angering a family law attorney is like trying to scare a guy on death row. Our nervous systems are … different.
But, this dad. This poor dad. And this poor kid! Truly a tragedy. And now our work begins.
“I think the family is the place where the most ridiculous and least respectable things in the world go on.” -Ugo Betti (who was a judge btw)