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ruled to deny opposing counsel's motion to rehear the entire case, temporary custody by an extended family member was revoked, and I had custody of my son.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!