Entitled To The Parents

“Your children deserve to know their mother, no matter who she is. For all you know, one of them will be the next Sigmund Freud, because of her. Don’t deny them that.”

I went to the doctor today for my bursitis. My husband had researched stem cell therapy and recommended this facility, high on the list and close to our home, and I had been in pain for a long time. There are several doctors who work here and, coincidentally, I was assigned to a specialist who had previously been my client. I knew he worked there but I hadn’t asked for him because he still owed me a great deal of money and I saw no reason to embarrass him by suddenly materializing before him, complaining of the pain in my shoulder.

He had bigger problems than I did.

But, as serendipity would have it, there he was. He had always been one of those caregivers with a very warm, bedside manner. He was also one of my clients who had had a horrible experience in litigation. He had married a nurse who, at the time they wed, seemed perfectly sane. Beginning when she became pregnant with their first child, their whole life gradually came unhinged as she slowly but surely lost her mind.

he had bigger problems than i did childrenThey had three children in short order, two boys, followed by a girl. As time passed, she became more and more out of touch with reality. Eventually she had to give up work. When she filed for divorce against my client, he was not surprised, just unsure of how to handle it. When he consulted with an attorney, that lawyer only understood litigation, so that’s what they did.

By the time I entered the case, the two of them had been round and round and round in court, in part because she had already been through nine lawyers. (No, I am not kidding.) The judge had awarded timesharing of 60/40, mother/father, but she had appealed the final judgment. But the reason that the father retained me was because the mother had already tried to commit suicide twice, and my client, the doctor, was beside himself with fear for his children, who had been present during both suicide attempts.

When she tried a third time, and asked her eldest boy, the eleven-year-old, to bring her a knife, he called the police. The Department of Children and Families stepped in. DCF, of course, only knows litigation, and the case was transferred to Dependency Court. The children’s father decided he needed someone with a different approach to representing families in court and retained me.

To tell you the entire story of our three years together would consume a book. Suffice it to say that his former wife was eventually Baker-Acted (in Florida, that’s shorthand for “institutionalized”) and he was appointed as the children’s sole caregiver for the 18 months that she was “put away.”

But when the time came to release her from the institution, the judge handed her back her 60% timesharing, without hesitating to consider the children’s best interests or what I argued was the “substantial change in circumstances,” because the doctor said she was “all better” on her meds.

I had been brought in to ensure that he had custody for the three years that I had bought him. Of course, that did not end their litigation; she knew of no other way of resolving their conflicts.

I hesitated to ask but, at the end of our medical consultation, I did. They were still going at it. But he was quick to assure me that he still took solace in what I had told him when we had parted ways. “Your children deserve to know their mother, no matter who she is. For all you know, one of them will be the next Sigmund Freud, because of her. Don’t deny them that.”

He still remembered.


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About this week’s authors:  Joryn Jenkins.

joryn-white-headshot-150x150Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, 2 of which she served as professor in law at Stetson University.  She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement.  For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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