Monday, November 21, 2011

Custody Laws


This post by Sheila Tone on the role that even theoretically legal marijuana use plays in CPS actions reminded me of a conversation I had with my uncle a couple of months ago and intended to blog about, but didn’t.

I had driven out to the coast to see my father’s side of the family.  Although my father is an educated professional, he comes from a working class family whose fortunes vary widely.  My uncle, for instance, while never having attended college, found mid-life success as the owner of a couple of small businesses.  His children both had behavioral problems that hurt their early potential.  One of them seems to have recovered while the other spiraled downhill.  It is about this second son that I spoke with him the night we all had dinner together.

I had known that my uncle was raising his own granddaughter, one of two offspring from a relationship my cousin had with his then-girlfriend, the other being taken care of by its maternal grandparents.  Cousin Σ has been in and out of prison on petty crimes, while the mother is out west somewhere living at the edge of homelessness.  She, too, is a drug addict, a fact the family blames entirely on Σ.

My uncle had legally adopted η and helped the maternal grandparents, not as well off as he is, adopt her sister.  Over dinner, he related a story, presumably true, about another set of grandparents that were raising their granddaughter when the child’s mother confronted the family in a restaurant demanding money.  When they refused, she summoned the police and demanded that the grandparents give her her daughter.  Note that the child, a toddler by this point, had no idea who this woman was.  The police asked the grandparents if they had legal custody.  They did not.  The police then forced them to turn over the little child to a complete stranger right then and there.

The conversation swung back to Cousin Σ, whom his father cornered at gunpoint one evening as Σ was attempting to break into one of his father’s businesses.  Shortly thereafter, my uncle visited Σ in jail and presented him with adoption paperwork.

“What’s in this for me?” he asked.

“Son,” his father replied, “the law forbids me from offering you anything in exchange for adopting your child.  But I will tell you what I will do if you don’t sign these papers.  I’ll go to court and have you declared an unfit parent.  I’ll request custody of the girl and get it.  And to top it all off, I’ll then seek an award for child support from your worthless ass, and when you can’t pay it, I’ll have you tossed back here in jail.”

That turned out to be persuasive.

I got to observe η over dinner that evening and later during our game of miniature golf.  She’s the same age as my younger daughter, and seems to be doing pretty well.


Justin said...

These stories really point to the power of positive parental leadership, and its opposite. I have seen many children of total trash losers turn out just fine, being raised by someone else. Some kids, like Sigma, just seem to be hopelessly deviant, but most kids only go bad because somebody feel asleep at the wheel. I am betting his baby mama's parents were absent when she fell under his sway, for example.

Dr. Φ said...

Justin: If her parents were absent, this fact was not part of the narrative. They are still together and are settled in the community, for instance.

However, I am skeptical of a number of another aspect of the narrative: that the girls was an "honor student" before being corrupted by my cousin.

While she may technically have been an honor student, I have observed many students, particularly girls, who possessed only modest intelligence yet were sufficiently conscientious that they could get good grades in JHS and early HS until they faced courses that were actually difficult. Then they kinda fell apart.

Other factors to consider: the girl is, um, heavy. (So was my cousin last I saw him. So, for that matter is η so far.) Not a criticism, I'm just saying it's a class marker.

None of this made what happened inevitable. But her grip on a middle class life was tenuous.

Anonymous said...

"honor student" skepticism ... it's similar to the way that every time a ghetto gangbanger gets shot by the police while committing a violent crime, he's an "honor student."