Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This is the case that never ends......yes it goes on and on, my friends....

I went almost all of 2014 without any hearings, I don't know why I would be surprised when my lawyer told me my hearing has been set for May. As in May 2015. As in SIX MONTHS from now....and this after 5 years of litigation already?!?!  How on earth is this right? 
Supposedly we're still on call on the docket and could come up anytime between now and May, but after this long I'm not going to hold a single breath.

The time I have lost with my son can never be returned to us. He can't just decide to back up when he's an adult and decide to see what it's like to try launching into the world from an extremely motivated, two parent, multi-child household.  He can't erase the time he spent with the people that made him think I am some lying evil monster, hell-bent on ruining his life. I am so obnoxiously selfish that I have dedicated YEARS just trying to spend time with him that isn't tainted by nonsense. Our time will always be tainted, simply because this was allowed to go on unchecked for so long.

I think I am angry at myself, for actually letting myself get my hopes up a little with this new judge. It felt like she wanted to resolve this quickly, and that is more important than which way the ruling comes out at this point.   All I can do is know that however long this is dragged out with no answer, HE is affected by stress and bullshit and that will have impact on his school and his future. 

All of this is so beyond stupid, I cannot even begin to fathom how this is ok from a legal standpoint. My right to spend time with and parent my child the way I see fit is ABSOLUTELY being infringed on right now, and has been for YEARS. And at this point, it is likely too late. May will be well after his 16th birthday, and the court has also allowed he will testify AFTER talking with the judge in chambers so that she can determine whether or not his testimony is necessary.

I can't even begin to find the words for the frustration and disappointment I currently feel. May.

I feel like every attempt to make me give up on my child has been made, both by my son's temporary guardian, opposing counsel, and even the court by its total inaction. 
I have been asking the court for help to spend time with my son for the last FIVE YEARS.
Now they like to look at me with a knowing look and say "He's at that age..."
Yeah, thanks. If I had gotten help from the court when he was TEN, when I first asked maybe he wouldn't be refusing to spend any time with me at all.  And certainly reinforcing that he is absolutely right, and he doesn't actually have to follow any court orders isn't a good thing to be teaching any teenage boy.

Unbelievable. Way to drop the ball, AGAIN, Seminole County.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Are we there yet?

After 5 1/2 years I must admit I am not very hopeful for a resolution that actually benefits my son. I have almost lost hope that he will be integrated into my family. What may or may not be a final hearing date may or may not be set for Dec 8, we won't know until after the pretrial conference tomorrow. 
Whether it is Dec 8 or sometime in 2015, after my son's 16th birthday, I will need to accumulate some funds for a court reporter. It's going to be an 8 hour hearing, and the reporter is $85 for the first hour and $50 for each additional hour. Those of you that have been following my story for a while, and have asked how you can help, I do have a gofundme account set up if you wanted to donate.

On that note, I would like to leave you with what comes out to 22 pages of the utter and despicable nonsense that is my experience SO FAR with Seminole County Family Court. 
How many lives have to be ruined before they are stopped?
How much angst could be avoided if people like Vicki Levy Eskin (opposing counsel) were held accountable for their overinvolved participation in the distortion of truth and mental abuse of my son and helping his temporary guardian to cause further damage by retaining custody that should have been (and was) revoked a long time ago?

Monday, September 22, 2014

My appeal was denied

They basically say there is nothing to appeal yet, since the judge never made a final ruling.  To say this is frustrating is an understatement.

Feel free to read, but I caution those of you who have been following this for a while that have anger or blood pressure issues may want to skip this link.

That was only HALF of my appeal. The other half was specifically me asking them to order her to rule since four years have passed and she simply refuses to make a final ruling.

I would say I am upset, but honestly I am not even the least bit surprised.  My lawyer is filing a motion for them to rehear the appeal but I am certainly not going to sit around holding my breath.

The reality is, even if they had ruled in my favor, my mother wouldn't suddenly start complying with court orders.  The system has taken so long to reach a conclusion that the conclusion itself will be irrelevant. They have already allowed the damage to happen.  Even a proper ruling is insufficient at this point.

For your reading pleasure, I am posting a copy of my complaint to the JQC.  Hopefully that sticks.
It may be too late for me, and too late for my son, but it is never too late to make this judge face the consequences of her actions!


Friday, July 25, 2014

WTF, Seminole County?

In November 2001 my son's father and I both voluntarily agreed to give Temporary custody of my son to his grandmother(my mother). We were being evicted from our apartment, and were about to spend the next year and a half living in our car.  I faced a great many obstacles during the process of undoing much of my poor upbringing and learning instead to be a stable and responsible adult, but I think for the most part I have done so.  Other parts of my blog talk about this in more depth, if you care to go read it.
After many struggles with being left off of school registrations and not being able to see my son (she said it was his choice, and that he didn't want to....he was 9 years old at the time), and arguments with my mother about her teaching my son to call her "Mom",  I filed for visitation through the Seminole County family court on 2/10/10. In January of 2011  only four court ordered visits had been complied with, and was unwilling to facilitate anything past that (the order stated "reasonable visitation upon which the parties can agree" and she simply refused to agree to anything). In one year I had seen my son four times, all in a supervised visitation center.  I decided my only chance to get to know my son was to remove her ability to block me from him and to remove him from living with her negative influence.  I was always agreeable to him still seeing her, but I felt like if he and I were going to get anywhere he needed to live with me, his mom, full time.

I filed to revoke Temporary custody of a family member in January 2011. After two continuances, we finally saw the magistrate  on 3/17/11. At the time, both parties stipulated that I was a fit parent.  Yet it wasn't until fourteen months later, after 8 continuances and 8 hearings with the magistrate, and two hearings with the judge to clarify the legal standard,  the magistrate issued his ruling on 5/30/12 that temporary custody to eventually be restored after a graduated visitation schedule that spanned over the next 36 months.

It was still another nine months and six continuances before the judge signed the magistrate's ruling into a final order minus the visitation schedule, and temporary custody was revoked on 2/13/13

I made my own graduated visitation schedule, allowing my son ample time at both homes to make the transition as easy as possible on him. My son moved in with me on 3/15/13  with a total of 6 outfits, his bookbag, and a broken laptop, all of which reeked of cigarette smoke even after multiple washings.  During this time his grandmother cancelled all of the visits I had scheduled for her, negatively impacting my son's ability to transition to my house smoothly.  During this time I was finally able to have myself added to the school records, and found out that he was in very serious danger of failing for repeated refusal to turn in homework.  He found himself restricted from his internet access and video games until his homework was completed. Needless to say, after living in a house where he was not expected to see to his responsibilities before having fun, he thought my house was super strict.  I knew this was normal and was prepared to patiently wait him out while he learned to adapt.

 While my son was living with me, I was still making payments to child support enforcement, because they said the court order "was not clear enough unless it specifically said child support was to stop".  On 4/5/13 my lawyer managed to get hearing time to ask the judge for a more clear order.  At this hearing, opposing counsel had absolutely no opposition to my lawyer's proposed order, yet Judge Schoonover expressed surprise that I had moved my child in with me upon gaining custody and refused to sign the order that was agreed upon by both parties.

Whatever happened behind the scenes during this time, I will probably never know.
But on 4/9/13 (two business days later) Judge Schoonover issued her decision to vacate her own order, essentially revoking my custody (granted only two months prior)and restoring temporary custody to his grandmother.  I believe this caused irreparable damage to my son's state of mind and to his future, and to the relationship between him and I.   THE SAME DAY that ruling vacating the custody order came back, my son ran away back to his grandmother's home where she showed the police  the new order vacating the order revoking her temporary custody, and asserted that she was his guardian and he was home safe and no longer a runaway. 

At this point the police would no longer get involved.

With the ruling on custody, there had been acceptance.  Even if my son did not like it much, he and his grandmother were complying.  Once the order was vacated all pretenses at compliance stopped.  Even if we get a final ruling now, it will be hard to find that same acceptance because vacating her own order affects the finality of any future ruling, which is specifically why it is not allowed by FL statute.  Even if the 5th DCA gives me custody now, my son and his grandmother will always believe they can get it overturned again, and will always be looking for the loophole to get him out of "having" to come see me.

My son is not held accountable for his schoolwork in his grandmother's home.  I am on the receiving end of many concerned emails from teachers, and I can do nothing but reply that he works diligently on his homework when he is at my house, but that he is refusing to visit me at this time and I can only control what happens in my home, and to please contact his grandmother with any concerns. 

Judge Schoonover's transfer to the juvenile court puts her in control of the futures of many children, most of whom are already on a path to delinquency if they are in court. When my son ran away he got in an altercation a few weeks later with an adult. My son spit in this adult's face and the man lost his temper and slapped him. 

At the time we saw it on the news, my husband and I were unaware that perhaps my son was somehow involved.  Two months later I saw a post on social media that confirmed my son was not only involved, but was the child slapped in the incident.  My son was the child slapped. Did my mom notify me? No. Did she notify the GAL? Yes. Did the GAL notify me? No. My son went to the emergency room, and not one of the adults involved informed me, the child's mother.

Judge Schoonover was informed of the incident and the cover up, but still refused to hear my contempt motions and requests for immediate custody.  I went another two months without seeing my son. We had a hearing on 6/10/13 that seemed to have no purpose other than to schedule a "conference call" between the judge, lawyers, and GAL for that Friday.  Between that and all the "lawyers only" parts of our hearings, I just had an uncomfortable feeling about both the judge and her magistrate (Larry Carpenter)and their relationships with opposing counsel (Vicki Levy Eskin) and the GAL(Carsandra Buie). All of whom are going to need several dedicated chapters to explain their dysfunctional contributions (Ms.Eskin, especially, with her dramatic fits in middle of the courtroom that were, of course, allowed to serve their purpose and grant them yet ANOTHER continuance)

On 6/23/13 we had another hearing where my son accompanied his grandmother and requested to speak to the judge. The judge brought my son into the courtroom not to let him talk, but to tell him what the new visitation schedule would be Saturday from noon to 3pm and, despite my reservations, Judge S. insisted on our continuing to use her appointed councilor,  Dr.Andrew Pittington (the therapist previously mentioned in the Orlando Sentinel as the therapist that judge Schoonover has been ordering everyone to see, though I will say he seemed both very professional and observant to me) with a two hour visit following each session.

Five hours.  He was a 14 year old living with me full time, that ran away (with absolutely NO consequences, in fact his grandmother got him a shiny new tablet and soon after that, a smartphone), and then I had to wait several months to learn that I could see him for a whopping three hours a week, plus two hours after therapy.  At this point, no-one had claimed that I am unfit or potentially unfit on any level, and in fact have agreed that I am a fit parent, so I can't figure out what we're still waiting around for.  If you are a mom, and especially if you are a mom with a teenage boy, you will certainly understand how buying him expensive toys after he ran away from his mom's house is pretty much about the WORST thing an influential adult could do at that point.

With judge Schoonover's help, my mother has been able to successfully teach my son that I am not his mom, and I do not matter as an adult in his life, that he can do as he pleases with no consequences ever, and that there are ways around court orders that clearly state when visitation is to occur (down to the hour and mode of transportation). 

All of these things can have negative impacts on a child's self-esteem and how they perceive themselves and the world around them.  Some mental health professionals consider this kind of extreme parental alienation to be a form of child abuse, and I agree with them.

 To say that these are not the morals that I want my child to be taught is a huge understatement, and the fuel behind my motion to revoke temporary custody in the first place.  I have many concerns as a parent about what my son is being taught about his mother and about how the world works.  Most parents try to teach their child that actions have consequences, but mine is being taught that with the right excuses you can evade punishment of any kind.  I feel I must mention at this point that my own upbringing by this woman resulted in me spending a year in jail as an adult, where I encountered therapy and made great changes to the lifestyle I learned as a child, to create instead the lifestyle that I choose as an adult. I was hoping to teach my son some of what I had learned so that he didn't suffer the same fate, but the court has enabled his grandmother to teach him that he can get away with whatever he wants.

I predict this will backfire when he is a legal adult, but nobody wants to listen to me.  After all, I'm just his mother.

We proceeded with "case management" hearings on 8/2/13, 8/30/13 (continued), 9/4/13, and 11/14/13, adding a few hours to each weekly visitation at each hearing. At the 11/14/13 case management hearing, holiday visitation was ordered, and for some reason the judge also chose that time to change the order from my mother bringing my son to my home to me having to pick him up from her house. Almost as if she had been told what came next….

 My son ran away again the visit before Thanksgiving (on 11/23, about 6 hours after I picked him up) and has refused to return. My younger sister (who refers to herself not as his aunt, but as his sister) picked him up in her car and drove him to her home, while simultaneously answering the phone for police and telling them that she had not heard from my son.   I have been unable to prosecute despite having plenty of evidence written by my sister herself as to her involvement, and my son's statement to police when he returned to his grandmother's, telling them that he had been at "his sister's" house.  During this time period, my mother and son made a few half hearted abuse allegations to the police as justifications for why he should not be forced to go to my house. The police called it in to the abuse hotline and it was found to be insufficient to be abuse, but again they would not help me to enforce the visitation order in any way.

We were still going to family therapy (with Dr.Pittington) for a while but after the new year our insurance deductible reset and instead of splitting $12 now the bill we are supposed to split 50/50 is $95, so now she is just flat out refusing to pay her half so we haven't been there in months either.  I have paid her portion up front before with another therapist, and I am still waiting for court ordered reimbursement to the tune of $2500. I wish I had funds to pay the entire bill just so that I can see my son for one measly hour, since he won't come to visit at all, but I am unable to do so at this time.

On 12/3/13, my mother filed a baseless Motion to Terminate Visitation, which thankfully Judge Schoonover also decided not to hear.   After three more continuances and two more hearings that accomplished nothing, I was given permission to file a motion to dismiss the GAL on 1/13/14. I had already proven that she was friendly with opposing counsel, and have to write an entirely separate piece about my experience with her, so that she gets all the attention she deserves.

But it wasn’t until the GAL and opposing counsel told the court they were now sharing an office space that my concerns were finally able to be addressed. 

Soon after that, Judge Schoonover made headlines as the "Facebook Judge" who friend requested a litigant before proceedings were over, bringing her under scrutiny by the Orlando Sentinel who unearthed more cases where her judgment was questionable.

 It seems to me that Judge Schoonover's actions, orders, and refusal to see our case in a timely and productive manner and has been a key factor in ruining my parent-child relationship with my son.  Because of her continued delayed actions and not making decisions (and overturning decisions) on this case has allowed my son’s grandmother to shove me right out of my son’s life. I’ve missed many milestone moments in my son’s life because this case has not been resolved with a permanent decision in the last 4 years.  There is no ruling at this point that can give me back the four years I have spent as a fit parent (as stipulated by all parties) fighting for a relationship with my son. There is no ruling that can be made now that will ensure that things will go smoothly moving forward. There is nothing to give me back the teachable moments that were stolen from me by tying my parental hands with paperwork and giving my mother court orders to hide my son from me behind.  Judge Schoonover's refusal to give the sheriff's office permission to enforce those specific visitation orders  further impedes and restricts my rights as my son's parent to report him as a runaway and have him returned by authorities to my home.   It allows my mother to harbor a minor who has run away from his parents, with no repercussions.

My son's grandmother receives disability for herself and a second check for dependents in her household (my son). She receives child support from both myself AND my son's father.  In addition to any food stamps or other public assistance she can get by adding him on to her application.  

Judge Schoonover is supporting the 'side' of a custodian who is fighting to keep a child as an income source and with no interest or outward attempt(s) towards reunification with either of his parents. She is rewarding the party that lies, deceives and ignores the court order - and punishing the person doing the work, trying to make a better, healthier future for this child.

 Aren't judges meant to be held to a higher standard - an 'oath' where justice is timely, fair and without prejudice ?

 Sometime in January 2014,  Judge Schoonover issued a ruling that she would rehear the entire case.  This order was the exact opposite of the ruling she made 11 months prior on 2/13/13 that she then vacated on 4/9/13.  Essentially this started us over at square one where I began four years prior.  And so I filed my appeal.

I filed an appeal for closure, not because I have much hope that it will accomplish anything effective for my son at this time. The damage has been allowed to be done. A fit parent should never have to wait four years to have custody restored.  I know of at least one recent case on the news of a woman with twins and one was killed so the other was removed. Just under 2 years later the 2nd child was returned to her and was also killed within a month.

So if we're giving kids back to people that killed their children in just under two years, why am I waiting around for custody  for twice that long when everyone agreed from the beginning that I was a fit parent?

Especially when the other guardian involved 1.Claims to "not be opposed" to visitation, 2. is a non-parent fighting a parent for custody,  3.Encourages and rewards noncompliance with court orders and interferes with visitation, and 3. Has allowed and encouraged the child for many years to call her Mom, and his mom by her first name, so that now he is even more resistant to a relationship with his actual mom.

 Judge Schoonover's ruling was clearly not in alignment with FL state law  and I believe that the appeal I have filed will come back to reflect the same. I hope for the harshest possible sanctions against Judge Schoonover for failure to operate within the boundaries of law, and for knowingly helping opposing counsel stall this case out far beyond any "reasonable length of time" for any situation involving a child in a custody dispute. Allowing her continue in a position of power making decisions in regards to other people's lives, does not send a message that what she did was wrong.  My life and the life of my son will never be as they would be if she had left her original ruling intact.  The damage has been done and will never be erased.  Please do not allow her to continue to affect other lives in such a manner. 

I also ask for a thorough evaluation of the Seminole County Courthouse, and it's processes that can allow any case to go on this long and have this many hearings/continuances without ANY resolution.  There is nothing and noone monitoring these people. The schedule is a joke. I haven't had a hearing scheduled in almost 6 months.  I have had over 20 continuances and over 40 hearings!!!!  There must be a realistic way to prevent this extreme of corruption and manipulation of the system so that more lives are not ruined. 

I asked for help 4 years ago...still waiting....wtf, Seminole County?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

When do we reach the end of the nonsense?

I hadn't heard from my son' individual counselor in a while. Since he stopped coming to visitation, and now my mother refuses to pay her half of the family therapy sessions,  I haven't been seeing or talking to him at all.  I call on Saturdays at 11am, since if he were to decide to follow the court order I would need to pick him up at noon.  If there were no custody battle I could have reported him as a runaway and had the police pick him up for me. For the record, my mother thinks this is horribly cruel of me. I don’t bother because it won't work. My mother shows them her temporary custody order and they tell me this isn't a runaway case, it's a custody dispute, so they can't help me and I'll just have to take it to court.

So the other day I remembered that I hadn't given my son's individual therapist our new HSA card info since my husband got a new job. I reflected back to when he first started seeing my son and saw him for NINE sessions before 1.Notifying me he was even seeing him, or 2.Sending me the bill (At that point adding up to $225)  So it occurred to me that this may be happening again, so I decided to send an email to address that and some other issues I had been wondering about.


Dear Mr.Blanchard,


Hello and Happy Monday! My husband has changed employment, so we have a new HSA card to make payments. I am unaware if you have still been seeing my son, but there haven't been any calls for the old card being declined, so I wasn't sure.
When he first started seeing you, I was not informed until a bill added up to over $200 and I am not interested in doing that again.  If you could please let me know if my son is still coming to sessions and if so, with what frequency? What progress is being made towards the goal of reunification? And at what point do you expect to work me into the sessions, again to continue to work towards the ultimate goal, which is and always has been reunification?

If there are any outstanding bills, please let me know so that I can call in payment.
Additionally, my mother's attorney has informed me that you were aware that my son was going to run away from my house before he did. I must say I was disappointed to hear this and I just wanted to  reach out and make sure that you still had my contact information (407-951-2343) and knew that I was, and still am, available to speak to you ANY time there is an issue such as this that I, like any parent, would like to be informed of.  I felt this needed to be said before visitation is resumed. Overall, I am disappointed with the lack of communication that I feel is necessary between a child's therapist and their parent, and hope that this does not continue as we move forward.

Thank you.
Theresa Seigler

Two minutes after I hit send, Mr.Blanchard called and left me a voicemail. It did not reference my email, it simply stated that his receptionist had brought it to his attention that our card had been declined, and I currently owed for two sessions (Totalling $120), and that if I could go ahead and make arrangements to pay that and give them a new card number to run whenever they have a session (without telling me about any sessions or updating me on the progress being made/or not being made), that would be great.

 I thought it was a little odd, that after 3 years of only ever returning calls, never initiating them, that he would miraculously decide to reach out to me, not only on the same day, but within MINUTES of the email I sent requesting that same information, but I digress.

Five and a half hours later, he sent a reply to my email.


Hi Theresa,

Thanks for getting back with me.  Your son has been coming every two weeks to therapy.  With spring break and my schedule, we've missed a couple but mostly every other week.  Currently, we are only outstanding on two sessions (4/15 and 5/6).  His next scheduled meeting with me is Tuesday, 5/27.  If you can call in payment for those and authorize frequency going forward, that'd be great.

He and I are still working through reconciliation issues in his therapy, together.  I'm not sure if he knows what's going on with the visitation and so that is creating some uncertainty about how best to proceed for him.

I'd also like to clarify about the incident that you referenced.  I did not have any forewarning about him running away.  I only stated to both Ms. Buie that I was concerned that he might do something.  I did not expect him to actually leave your house.  If you'd like to talk about that sometime, or other concerns for that matter, please let me know so we can talk on the phone.
Thanks for your email and let me know how you'd like to proceed. 



So you see how the FIRST thing he did was make my email a reply to his voicemail by saying "Thanks for getting back to me"??? That is just so shady, I had to wait three days for my anger to subside enough to write a decent reply.

Dear Mr.Blanchard, 
The continuing confusion and uncertainty between the professionals involved with my son and I is of increasing concern to me.  In the interest of clarity regarding initiative and content, I request that our communications remain in writing.

My 12 year old son began counseling with you in November 2011. The established objective was reunification and full custody transfer from his grandmother to me as his biological mother. That objective remains unchanged.  It is now May 2014, he has had 30 months of individual counseling, for which I have paid 100% of the costs.  I am deeply concerned and disappointed regarding the minimal progress made toward the goal of reunification between my son and I, directed and supported by your professional counseling. 

Within 30 days of his initial counseling sessions with you, he began refusing to go to our first family therapist.  During the remaining time he has been professionally counseled by you, he has begun to refuse the visitations he previously participated in, become more verbally expressive of his refusals to honor visitations, and has run away twice, and now, most recently, adamantly refuses to honor the court ordered visitation schedule completely.

The disparity between the therapy goal of reunification and the behavior demonstrated indicates a non-existent or failed therapeutic bond in your ability to achieve progress toward the goal of reunification.

I am also concerned that you chose to communicate your concern about his potential for acting out as runaway only to the Court Guardian Ad Litem, without sharing the same information with his custodial grandmother, his mother (myself), the adult paying your counseling fees (myself), or the parent whose home he was at risk for running away from (again, myself). I feel this shows questionable judgment on your part.

As his mother, and the person contracted with you for professional services, it is troubling to be informed of his runaway risk and actions only on an after-the-fact basis.  Your choices and counseling results seem to be reinforcing  his custodial grandmother's desire to encourage confusion regarding compliance with court ordered visitation, despite the existence of a very clearly ordered visitation schedule.
He needs counseling that will help him accept the Court orders for visitation and for transitioning to my full time custody as his mother.  If those goals are not possible nor probable, why have you not filed a report stating the specifics of why that is not progressing and/or what the existing confusion may be?

In a review of emails, telephone messages and correspondence, I do not find a single instance where you or your office have initiated contact with me regarding his progress. In fact, I have not found evidence of contact initiation from you or your office in regards to anything except the collection of payment. The notification to me of scheduled and completed counseling sessions is hit or miss, and often after the fact. Receipts for payment come to me only by my request. At this time, I am asking for a summary of all scheduled 2014 appointments, noting if they were completed, and with the reason for any missed or cancelled sessions.

My son is now 15 years old and has been in counseling with you for 30 months. I have 30 months left before he becomes a legal adult of 18. We are at the halfway mark of time, with no discernible progress toward the primary therapeutic goal.  As his mother, I feel it is absolutely necessary that he have a therapist that has no uncertainty on how to proceed.   I believe a written Progress Report to myself and the Court is needed before June 1, 2014. Your professional plan needs to include the treatment plan and time table for any further counseling along with specific actions you feel can be accomplished by following the treatment plan you recommend.

After review and discussion of that report, a decision will be made on how to proceed for my son's treatment and counseling.
Theresa A. Seigler 


So, yeah….I won't be holding my breath for that reply.  I am so tired of the "confusion" as to what is actually court ordered ever since the judge vacated her own order.  Even the very simple and clear orders regarding visitation that have been written since then.  I'm not sure what exactly is going on here, but I know bullshit when I smell it, and it has been pretty stinky here in Seminole County for quite some time now.

I can't believe it is as simple as this one judge at this point, when the county is just allowing her to keep doing what she is doing. She made the front page of the news again.  This time specifically for overturning a ruling that was supposed to be final and upheaving an entire family after all was supposed to be said and done.

And I'm sitting here almost to the end of May, and my hearing that was cancelled on Jan 31 has yet to be reset. My mother's attorney is 'on vacation" for  weeks and leaving this case with a colleague would mean a missed opportunity to stall things out longer. 


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Our insurance deductible reset

We hit our deductible last year, so when we started at our newest (third court ordered) family therapist my mother and I were ordered to split $12. This was awesome to me, since back in 2010 I paid $185/week to see my son for 3 hours (which my mother was ordered to reimburse me half of and never did). So $6 for an hour of therapy and a 2 hour visit? Yeah, awesome. Of course the 2 hour visits after stopped back at the holidays and it's just been the hour of therapy, but hey, it's an hour with my kid in a positive environment. To be honest, I was surprised they were even still coming at all, so I wasn't going to question too much.

Anyway, our insurance deductible reset, changing our copay from $13 to $95.  So it ends up being $40-something each.  The day she found out, my mother said she could pay it, just not that day.  So we had our session, but I knew in the back of my mind it was the last one for a while. We've been through this cycle before. I cannot understand why the courts just sit there and let the cycle repeat by allowing her to retain temporary custody, which directly infringes on my rights and ability to parent my child.  But I digress....long story short, now we aren't going to therapy either.

We're just sitting around waiting.  I call him on Saturdays so he can tell me he's not coming to visit. If he picks up, that is. Otherwise I leave a voicemail and nobody ever calls me back.  Sometimes I'll email him something I think is cool, but he doesn't answer those, either.  But hey, at least I know now that if he WANTED to, he would now how to reach me. Five years ago he wouldn't have had my phone number or email or anything.
His grades are back down, and he had finally gotten to where he had no Ds or Fs. He missed school Thurs and Fri so I'll have to remember if I get voicemail this week to remind them there is no issue with him going to a doctor, and for someone to just let me know if he needs one.  I don't want him to lay around miserable just because she doesn't want me to know he's sick. Can we PLEASE put him first for once and just get him medical attention if he needs it and not play this stupid game where HIS MOTHER can't find out he was sick enough to need a doctor?

In the last four years if the RIGHT calls had been made by the court and this judge, my son and I may or may not have reached a completely reunified mother/son relationship, but I damn sure would have had a better chance with him in an environment that supports our relationship than I do with him immersed in people that have taught him that my wish to be involved in my son's life is selfish and wrong and evil and manipulative of me and is a huge negative thing that is ruining his life.
How on earth is that in ANY child's best interests?

How is it in any child's best interest to schedule 47 hearings but to allow continuances on 20 (47%) of them?
Or when 116 of 202 scheduled visits are cancelled (that's 57%, in case you were wondering)  but 0% of my contempt motions get set for hearing, heard, or ruled on.

Am I upset with my judge? Sure. This is from her campaign back in 2010

"They file for a divorce and each seek sole custody of the children and Mom wants child support and alimony.  Relief should be coming soon.  They wait. Nothing.
After 3 months, a hearing is finally scheduled with a general master.  After 4 different hearings with a general master there is still no relief and no temporary order.  There is one result. Their savings is gone.  One year later, Dad commits suicide.
We need a family court in Seminole county- one judge assigned to all matters with regard to that family. A family court with judges who are there to listen just to family matters- to vet out issues.  The court system can’t fix people – it is not a therapist,  it is not a bank. However it can listen and it can make orders that make common sense for the parties and families involved. It can manage its docket so that issues are heard quickly and so that families are given direction. They need access to the courts with and without attorneys; they need a court system that is responsive to them. Lets bring a family court to Seminole county!!"
Wow, she seems to think four hearings is a lot. I refer you to the paragraph above where I mention I have had 47 scheduled and 27 actual hearings.

So yeah, I'm upset with her.  But I am more upset with my county, for being set up in such a way that this was allowed to happen. 

As I mentioned before, I have no clue when my next hearing (reset from Jan 31, 2014) is going to be....and it's April now. Four months later and I'm not anywhere on the docket right now.

This doesn't happen everywhere. My husband's custody case in North Carolina may have been longer before the initial hearing (6 months or so) but all continuances were scheduled on the spot by the judge herself, and all were within a week. So the whole thing was settled in less than a year. Whatever anyone thought about any rulings, it was done, and everyone accepted what was and moved forward with their lives.
THAT is best for ANY child involved in any type of custody situation. NOT dragging the entire thing out to span longer than the child's entire middle school career in the hopes the child will be too old to enforce any orders by the time they are ordered.

FOUR YEARS LATER, I am still waiting......WTF, Seminole County?


Thursday, March 20, 2014

I would write more often, but there's nothing to write about

I haven't posted because, well, nothing has happened worth mentioning really.

Our last hearing was set for Jan 31. A week before, it was "continued". To when, you ask? I still don't know. And now it is March 20.  How is it that months can go by without even knowing when you will next get in front of the judge? How many hearings can happen where absolutely nothing productive occurs? 

Meanwhile, my son refuses to visit. We have family therapy appointments every week, but lately it seems like every other week or so gets cancelled. The ones that do happen, we play games (lately, chess) and hang out for an hour while I try everything I can to get him to engage with me while he shrugs and answers with as few words as possible. I try to remind myself that some of this would be normal for a 15 year old boy even if he had spent every day of his life with me, and just kind of roll with it the best that I can. Improvising sure gets tough at times.

I keep in mind that now is not when me trying will matter, but later when he is older and looking back. I can rest assured knowing that he will have to at least know that I tried, as much as any person could possibly try with the roadblocks I have encountered every step of the way.  Maybe one day he will realize who it is I am doing it for.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

filling in a little more background

In February of 2013, three years after my first filing with the court, I thought the worst was finally over. Judge Schoonover ruled to deny opposing counsel's motion to rehear the entire case, temporary custody by an extended family member was revoked, and I had custody of my son. I visited school and changed things over, but in an effort to make things easier and make the transition smoother on my son (he was in 8th grade, just finishing up middle school) I didn't bring him to my home immediately, but instead made a schedule that had him visiting my house a lot before he moved in and visiting my mother's house a lot after he moved in with me.

The day I picked him up to officially move to my house (with a total of five outfits and a broken laptop, all of which reeked of cigarette smoke) I was informed by him that she wasn't taking the first visit (which was set for the following evening so that he could continue alternate days at each house which was the schedule before he moved).  A few days later he told me he wouldn't be going to her house after school on Tuesday or Thursday either, because he and his grandmother (whom he calls "mom") were concerned about when he would complete his homework.
I'll pause for a moment to say that at this point I had physical evidence from the school that while living at her house he had not been doing any homework for quite some time. But I digress....

After a few phone calls, I finally got ahold of my mom and agreed to a few days of visitation that were not on the schedule and also interfered with family activities I had scheduled to include my son, but since she had cancelled everything so far I felt it was important that he spend some time with her.
After that visit, I kept reaching out to her to establish SOME minimum of a scheduled visitation. I made the mistake of suggesting we schedule at LEAST every other Friday, and add more when it works out, just so that there was something scheduled to plan around. That just resulted in my son texting me about how I have now "limited the times he is happy to only every other Friday" because she keeps including him when it is not appropriate (read: when she can use it to make me look bad)

Meanwhile, I was still paying child support, since support enforcement says the order "is not clear enough" to terminate child support. Um, my son is LIVING with me, it was clear enough for the school, and I have an order revoking her temporary custody.  But apparently it has to specifically mention child support before they will do anything. So I got to continue to pay her every week while providing for all his needs at home as well.

It was a pretty amazing month. I got to spend SO much time with my boy and see him spending time being part of the family, and smiling and laughing in spite of himself (and in spite of all the claims that he is nothing but miserable when in my presence). We watched movies, we discussed history, we visited museums. We ate meals as a family at the dinner table, walked the dogs, played board games and hide and seek, played old school video games and just existed together for a while. The 3rd week my stepdaughter was visiting from out of state for Spring Break, and my husband and I had the wonderful experience of having all three of our children home at the same time (possibly the only time ever).  And I got the only existing picture of all five of us that Easter. <3

On April 9 at about 1 or 2pm, I got a call from my lawyer that judge Schoonover had vacated her own order.  The order to vacate says it is because she denied the motion to rehear the day before hearing my son's testimony (privately, with just my son, the judge, and the gal present)
A quick check of phone records showed my maternal sister texting my son an hour or so before.  Ten minutes later he was due to get off the bus at my house but instead the texts began "explaining" why he chose to return to my mother's house instead of my own and telling what a horrible person/mother I am.

In May my son made headlines by being involved in an argument/physical altercation with an adult, who apparently approached him and his friend and accused them of bullying his son. Well, the adult made headlines, anyway. Everyone else involved was a minor so their names were left out.  Apparently my son chose to spit in the man's face and mouth off and the man slapped him.  Neither my mother nor the GAL informed me of this (though my mother informed the GAL), even though my son required medical attention at the time. Wherever they took him, they did not use the insurance I am required to carry for him, because they have to call and tell me in order to do that. I found out from reading the article on line and seeing my own sister posting that it was her "brother" that the man slapped.

He refused to visit (ever again) and I was not able to get in front of the judge again until June, motions for contempt never seemed to make it to hearing.  Finally in June she ordered visits on Saturdays from noon to 3pm. I swear, I voluntarily agreed to TEMPORARY custody, but I feel like if I had gotten him taken away for beating him with a baseball bat in the middle of Wal-mart I'd have been given custody back more quickly/easily than this!

Anyway, he did start coming to visits again, though sometimes they were an hour or two or five late without calling or even apologizing, and every month or so we'd get back in front of the judge and she'd add another few hours to my visitation. It was torture for one to watch my son be constantly torn apart and for two to be constantly rearranging my family's regular interests and schedule to accommodate the torture. Slowly we worked back up to him being here from Saturday until Monday morning. In September of 2013 the judge even finally ordered my mother to remove "Mother to access grades only, and cannot pick child up from school" from my son's file at school (something that has never been ordered), but she didn't actually remove it for another month or so.

In November, we had another "case management" hearing and I expressed to the court my concern about the holidays. For the past two years, I had ordered visitation on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and both times my son refused to go and my mother was either unwilling or unable to encourage him to do so.  The judge addressed my concern and made a very specific holiday schedule outline.

The weekend before our Thanksgiving visit, I picked my son up at noon on saturday. That night at about 6:30pm he went in his room and closed the door. I tell you what, for all they try to say I'm not his mother, I'd say my radar works pretty damn good. By 6:40 I had found an excuse to knock on his door (I do prefer to respect his privacy so in case my radar was off I did give him a few minutes alone first) and he was gone. My sister picked him up in her car and drove him to her house, while answering the phone for the police and telling them she hadn't heard from him at all and had no idea where he was. He likely was sitting right there when she did it. The things they are teaching him just make me MORE concerned at how long this entire process is taking.

Enter my conundrum. Here is where my right to parent my child is directly interfered with by both my mother and the court.  I reported my son as a runaway, but he stayed missing until near the end of my visitation time, and returned to my mother's Sunday night. Because my mother had temporary custody (because of the judge vacating her order) it is no longer me reporting a runaway, and they will not get involved because it is a custody dispute. So they will not return my runaway child to me because she has documentation to show that she is "technically" one of his legal guardians, and that makes him no longer a runaway. This is pretty much in the police report I picked up later.

The following Wednesday she was ordered to drop him off for Thanksgiving, but he refused to get out of the car, instead locking the passenger door and playing his tablet (which she, of course, saw no reason to take away from him:rolleyes:) When I called the police out this time was when they told me they couldn't get involved. In addition to the custody dispute, this time my mother and son alleged that I abuse him by refusing to feed him and locking him outdoors when he refuses to do "hard labor" (which was mowing the lawn, which is a totally age appropriate chore for a 14 year old boy) and the fact is, we were ALL outside and I told him if he wasn't going to help with yard work, he wasn't going to go inside and sit in the ac while everyone ELSE did yard work (including my 5 year old) Apparently the police called it in to the abuse hotline but it was found to be insufficient. So at least there's that.

He chose to refuse to come through the rest of the holidays as well, though he did (and is still, :fingerscrossed:) continue to show up for family therapy. So I am doomed again, to only seeing him once a week, in a therapist's office. But lately I've been thinking a lot, and I think that even if he isn't living with me and even though this has dragged out longer than I have liked (or think is in his best interests) at least I know that now, unlike before, if he wants to get ahold of me he knows how. We didn't have that before. She was the gatekeeper. And I at least broke that gate. 

He will eventually know I care.  I explained it to him once that life is like a google map. We start out zoomed in real close and as we get older it zooms out and we see more of the whole picture. I am confident that as his map zooms out and he sees more of the whole picture, he will see that there isn't any room for selfish in what I am doing. How they were able to convince him that me bending over backwards all the time to jump through flaming hoops to see him for even just a moment is selfish, I will never know. But he'll figure it out. Either that or he won't. But at least I know I tried like hell past when all others would have long since given up. Because I love him.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

About the GAL

I'm looking through my notes as we prepare to file our appeal. Sometimes time passes faster than you realize.

Let me tell you about our GAL, Ms.Carsandra Buie. First I have to back up to when I had to do four supervised visits at YANA (You Are Not Alone, supervised visitation center), followed by "visitation as agreed on by the parties"

We finished YANA. I suggested multiple visitation schedules. My mother's response was to file for a guardian ad litem.  And conveniently her lawyer already knew one who was willing to take the case pro bono.  You may have heard of her before, she ran for judge at one point, and she presents a good front of her good works with abused children. Which may or may not be a load of crap, I don't know. She certainly dropped the ball for my child. As a result, I have a horrible first impression of the Seminole County Guardian Ad Litem program, when honestly I don't know if the whole program is corrupt or just her.

The first time I met the GAL, she approached me in the hallway outside the courtroom and berated me about how if I pushed this I would lose my child, and that is what she planned to tell the magistrate, And basically that I should just go wander off somewhere else and leave my son alone to call his Grandma "Mom" and his aunt his sister.

I look through my notes and see that since her appointment in Feb 2011, this GAL has telephoned me three times and visited my house twice, each time for less than 10 minutes and the first time she didn't even ask to see my son's room. That is FIVE TIMES in the last three years that I have spoken with the GAL appointed to represent my son's "best interests" (Note: a child's best interest does not always agree with what the child WANTS)

By her own admission in her report, she only attempted to speak to 2 of his 7 teachers, both of which were unavailable and she never ended up speaking to. She states that my son made excellent grades while living in his grandmother's home, but school records show otherwise. So how much research did this woman actually DO into the two environments? While they argue "best interest" they refuse to even compare the two homes; one single grandparent on welfare and disability with minimal contact and interaction with dysfunctional extended family that allows other adults to openly insult and villify the parent in front of and directly to the child (with written proof) that allows the child to make ALL of his own decision vs a two parent tax paying household with two other children that excel both socially and academically because they are held to the expectations of the household to learn responsibility and that has a functional extended family for support.

If that, combined with the fact that she was hand picked by opposing counsel wasn't enough to make me concerned about her position (but it was, I have been suspicious of her since the way she approached me at our introduction) then THIS certainly would be.....in August 2013 the GAL and opposing counsel informed the court at one of our hearings that they were now sharing an office space.

My motion for her dismissal was filed last August, immediately after that hearing, but to this date (in February 2014) has not been heard or ruled on, and the same GAL is still on the case. Not that I've spoken to her or anything, but it certainly makes it harder to coordinate hearings with THREE lawyers schedules to work around, now doesn't it? And so the wheels of justice remain too clogged to turn. And my son gets older.

So why is it that the judge hasn't removed her 6 months later? There is clearly a conflict of interest if the GAL and opposing counsel are sharing an office space, despite their claims in the courtroom that it's ok because they have an "invisible wall" concerning this case, and they never talk about it. Oh, give me a break!
But apparently that lame excuse was enough for this judge (Judge Linda Schoonover), because the GAL has yet to be dismissed.  Funnily enough, last week the GAL contacted my lawyer to say that she has agreed to withdraw herself if I will withdraw my motion for her dismissal because she doesn't want it to affect things if she decides to run for judge in the future.  I told my attorney we withdraw NOTHING until after she has actually removed herself.  But let me just laugh quietly to myself for a moment.....as if I am not going to actively voice my thoughts about her to all who will listen, should she try to run again. Because to me, someone of her level of unprofessionalism and corruption has no business deciding people's lives. As far as I'm concerned, she shouldn't be "helping" children as a guardian ad litem, either. As it stands, she has yet to withdraw herself from my case, despite her offer to do so.

I would advise noncustodial parents to be proactive if they feel their Guardian Ad Litem is not communicating enough and/or not looking out for their child's best interests. Call them. Don't let them go a year without MAKING them speak to a parent of the child they are supposed to be advocating for. I know it is hard and the weight of it all feels tremendous. It is designed to feel that way. Just hang in there!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Funny, I've been suspicious of many of the rulings (or lack thereof) my judge (Judge Linda. Schoonover) has made, including vacating her own order giving me custody after my son had been living with me for one month.
Now this has hit the news and it really makes me wonder what has been discussed about MY case outside of the courtroom, and just how close IS she with my mom's lawyer?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I gave my mother temporary custody of my son when he was a baby. she let me visit sporadically but things got weird after she taught him to call her "mom". in 2010 she told me my son "didn't want" to visit me and she "didn't think it was right to make him" when i threatened to go to court, she told me "do what you gotta do" i began my battle representing myself, until the point that my mother's attorney requested appointment of her friend and colleague as guardian ad litem. i am grateful to have acquired my own attorney when she was first starting out, and she gave me the option of a monthly payment plan. but after four years, the grand total just keeps growing. what was a clear cut and dry case of revoking temporary custody from a family member (who agreed i am a fit parent) has turned into four years of what amounts to 45 scheduled hearings (19 with the magistrate and 26 with the judge) of which 18 of those were cancelled or continued in an effort to let my son get old enough to resist visitation more actively. 27 of those hearings were actually held, but as i sit here without my son i cannot help but wonder what any of the hearings hae accomplished, exactly.  Not counting attorney fees, i have paid almost $8000 in therapy. costs (at one point I was paying $185 per week to see my son for two hours at the therapist's office), while my mother has contributed less than $500 and currently owes me $2500 in court ordered reimbursements from the first therapist. once he filed his report (that my son should end up with me and that people not following court orders should be held accountable for their actions)she moved to have him replaced with a new therapist.

Sigh....Intro to the drama

I wrote this draft and lost it somewhere, I came back to it just now after starting my other blog, and suddenly it seems like a good idea to take this story here as well. I see that two more years have passed since I wrote this, and my saga is much sadder, though I have earned some smiles and even some laughter for my trouble. My son is 15 now. Still, I perservere in my efforts to make sure that he knows that I love him. I am told I am selfish, and that I am stubborn. Ok. Or I know what the right thing to do is, and I choose that, despite wanting nothing more than to turn my back on the whole lot of nonsense.

January 2011:
How to summarize this in few words? I don't think that's possible.

My son (he'll be 13 in a few short weeks) was born when I was 19. I wanted to place him for open adoption because I was getting evicted from my apartment. (and I actually ended up spending the first 2 years of his life living in my car)

My mom (instead of patting me on the back and reassuring me I COULD be a mom, or even supporting my decision for adoption) or offering me a place to stay, convinced me that he should live with her to "stay in the family" and so that "I can see him and be part of his life" So shortly after he was born, we got our 24 hour eviction notice, and took him to live with his grandma, "Nana".

I was ok with that decision for awhile when I could see him or call him. I was evicted from my apartment and made ends meet as an exotic dancer. I had zero knowledge of these type of things and stocked her with groceries, diapers and clothes, and gave her cash (because, duh, I was a dancer, I got cash daily) When I had something for her or could DO something for her or wasn’t a threat (read: still out partying and acting like a kid) I was allowed to see my son.

In 2004 I spent a year in jail that was my wake up call and my first encounter with counseling of any kind.  It was the most critical time in my life, as I sat around studying ME and MYSELF and the family I came from. And understood why I was the way I was, and also that I had a CHOICE not to be that way.(Imagine that!)

 As I grew the heck up and pulled my head out of my @$$ she pushed me more and more away.  While I was in jail my son starting calling "Nana" "Mom". I objected. Loudly.  I sent letters, and she told me she wasn't giving them to him because I signed them "Your Mommy" and I was "confusing him"  She said this was his choice. At first I argued that her JOB was to remind him that she was his GRANDMA and that he had a mom.  When I got out of jail, she wouldn't let me see him. Not because I had been in jail, but because I refused to refer to myself by my name instead of as Mom.
It took her a few months, but I eventually broke down and agreed to stop calling myself Mom so that I could see him. And so I contibuted to the delusion myself. 

A rift grew between my mother and I.  Determined to right my upside down existence, I moved a few states away to live with my father (whom I had never lived with in my life) in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of North Carolina. Got myself turned right-side up and was rediscovered by my middle/high school boyfriend/crush.

I called to talk to my son, and sometimes I could, but most of the time my mom monopolized the conversation and told me about problems I wasn't allowed to help fix (My son was getting bullied but she wouldn't let me pay for self-defense classes)

We got married, and though my son was invited, he strangely "had plans" out of state that week, and was unable to attend. Sometimes I regret having my mother present at my wedding, but I figure the irony of her "giving me away" to my husband is fitting enough to make it tolerable.

My stepdaughter lives with her mother halfway across the country, and visits 3 times a year.  We have a solid start though because the first 2 years of our marriage we had her every weekend before she moved away with her mom. Our first daughter together was born, and even more missing parts of my upbringing made sense as I learned firsthand how all this "Mom" stuff really works.

Thanksgiving 2008 my mom cut all contact and refuses to let me see my son, telling anyone who will listen how he “doesn’t want to”, and told me to "do what you gotta do".  These tactics would have bullied me into submission prior to my therapy. Instead, I am doing what I have to do. It isn't pretty, and I am fairly helpless so far as to keeping my son out of the middle where she has placed him. All I can do is follow through to the end and hope it influences his adult life in some positive way.

I filed with the courts for visitation and she filed for supervised visitation. I got “4 supervised visits at {visitation center} to be followed by reasonable visitation as agreed upon by the parties” Needless to say after my 4 visits we were unable to reach any kind of agreement. No matter what schedule I suggested her response was basically "How about NO visitation?" so back to court we went!

We got a Guardian Ad Litem (who honestly doesn't seem to have done much in the last year and a half, which adds to my frustration) who is supposed to advocate my son's "best interests" but she says a lot of "he doesn't want to" as well.  Sorry, if I parented that way, my 3 year old would eat nothing but chocolate and would never nap.  Not necessarily in her best interests, kwim?
I have now fought my way visitation every Friday WITH a counselor and we are slowly but surely making progress, though my mother will disagree.  He's joined ROTC this year, which makes me happy because last year he wasn't really doing his homework, but there was little I could do about it.  He likes ROTC, and if he wants to stay in it, he HAS to do his homework. This pleases me. :)

He was supposed to come over this year for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it never happened. She claims it is his choice and she has no control over him, and is powerless to force him to go. The counselor has expressed that he sees no need for supervised visitation at this point, but my mom refuses to let it go. For the record, we are supposed to be starting family therapy, but she's dragging her heels on that front as well.

I maintain my sanity by sewing until my fingers feel like falling off, doing yoga (with the Wii, it still counts!), and chasing my precocious 3 year old daughter around all day. 

I figure one of us has to be rational. 

He may not realize that someone is me yet, but he's only 12.  I have a good understanding of his position since my mother pretty much did the same thing to my dad. She badmouthed him all the time. My dad never (still!) spoke poorly of my mother, though she likely deserves it. The closest he's come to it is saying "Well, that's your mother" when I am complaining.  And you know what? Because of that I have a far greater respect for him than I ever will for her.  And because of that I know if I just remain calm and perserverant and be patient, my son will put the pieces together eventually. I hope.