|Custody Was Legal, But It Wasn't
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Once upon a time there was a young married couple who had a child. For the first year of the child's life they lived as a traditional family. Mom stayed home with the baby. Dad went to work to earn the money the family needed.
But the young mother was not happy. She wanted to finish her university education and to pursue a career. One day she could not tolerate it any longer. She left her home, her husband and her child to return to school in a different state
The young father had some difficult times. He hadn't developed his "mothering" skills as well as he had his "fathering" skills. But he loved his child, and he quickly learned how to be a single parent.
For three years he did it all, and he did a wonderful job.
But one day the young father began to notice that his child seemed sad. It got worse as time went on. The child began to play with fire and to hurt small animals. The father took the child to a counselor. The counselor said, "The child misses his mother. The child feels abandoned. The child feels that he must be an awful child for his mother to have gone away. The child is suffering from self-hatred.
The father told the mother about the problems. The mother had stayed in touch by phone and with letters. The mother hired a lawyer and filed a request with the court for a change of custody and for permission to take the child from New Mexico.
The law was on the father's side. In custody cases the law gives a good deal of weight to consistency, which for this child was in New Mexico. It was here that the child's grandparents lived. It was here that the child went to church and school.
The right legal answer in this case was that the father won and the mother lost. Custody stayed with the father in New Mexico.
But after he'd won, the father said, "The legal answer is right for me, but it's wrong for my child." The father recognized that his child had an intense longing and need to be with the mother. With tears running down his face, the father told the mother, "I'm giving custody to you. Take good care of him."
This is not a fairytale. Everyone did not live happily ever-after. The father missed the child terribly and the child missed the father. But this child was able to learn that it wasn't his fault that his mother had gone away, and he was able to learn that he wasn't an awful, hateful person, and one day I hope he will be able to understand just how powerful his father's love for him is.
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