Judgment Call

It’s Friday, so let’s play an easy game. Take a look at this mug shot and guess what this woman did to land herself in jail. Just study her picture for a minute or two and guess: What did she do? What kind of person does she look like? Don’t worry about being fair or having facts. Just take a guess.

Here goes:

mug shot cropped

Ready?

OK–here’s what she did: She broke down and sobbed in court after the judge awarded sole custody of her two younger children to their abusive father.

The judge’s “official” charge was criminal trespass. Robin Karr appeared at a court hearing she’d been ordered to attend, so the “reason” for her arrest is ludicrous. But her arrest only came after she dared to demonstrate emotion, and then it came swiftly. The female judge was offended, perhaps disgusted, by this mother’s display of grief at her no-doubt carefully calculated ruling.

In short–Robin Karr was arrested for crying.

 Links for the local news reporting of Robin’s arrest and related stories and documentation:

News Article About Robin’s First Attorney       WFAA News and Arrest Stories About Robin     About Judge Sue Pirtle      Court Appointed Social Worker Not Licensed

“I went into shock while in jail and lost all of my hair.  The trauma was all just so great,” she says. “Why was I arrested for criminal trespass when I was at a hearing I was ordered to attend? I’ve never wanted anyone to see the arrest photo before, but I don’t care at this point. I want people to see what a protective mother being arrested for crying over not being allowed to see her babies, even supervised, looks like.”

What did you see when you first viewed Robin’s mugshot? You wouldn’t be alone if you assumed she was there because she’d done something terrible. That’s most everyone’s assumption when a person is arrested–they assume the person is guilty, else they wouldn’t have been arrested in the first place, right? But these days, you can’t know that. It can be as capricious as the whim of a sadistic judge who seems hell-bent on adding more flames to someone’s living hell. An abusive spouse–or in this case, a judge–can have a woman arrested for practically anything.

In other words, those prison bars are going to clang shut behind you regardless of whether you actually did anything, or not. If someone wants to put you there, they can if they find clever means. This is how the “divorce gamesmanship” I write about is easily carried out through manipulation of laws that make it easier than ever before to get someone arrested. This is why I’ve strived to educate people how to spot when this could possibly happen, how to spot the game as it’s put into action. Because usually, the target of this game of deception is oblivious that such things can happen, and is caught unawares–and that, my friends, is the game.

This is why, after delivering the most brutal ruling a mother could ever hear, this judge got away with such cruelty as to even prevent Robin from going home to grieve in private with the support of her older son and her friends. Instead, this judge chose to make her a figure of spectacle and shame. She called for officers to handcuff her and take her to jail and isolate her as completely and cold-bloodedly as she possibly could on the worst day of this bereft mother’s life.

“The look on my face in my arrest photo and in my eyes is almost identical to the look on Matthew and Laura’s faces at that first supervised visit where Matthew had a black eye,” Robin says. (To see those pictures, click on this blog post here.)  “Anybody should be able to look at those photos and see the devastating harm done.  To think this is being done on purpose is just unthinkable, really.”

My buddy deception and credibility expert Eyes for Lies, aka Renee, posts a regular feature on her blog called Expression of the Day. She challenges her blog followers to guess what emotion the picture expresses. In this way she helps coach others to look beyond a smile or a smirk to see what is truly there. (She also analyzes cases in the news and explains how she senses if someone is lying or not. So if you’re looking for a delicious black hole of a website to drop into when you need a break, look no further.)

So now we know Robin’s back story, let’s take another look at her mug shot.

What do you see? I see confusion. Exhaustion. Defeat. Deep concern. Dark circles under weary eyes. But mostly, I see the very reason why she was arrested in the first place:

She is sad.

Here are pictures of the “real” Robin:

Robin expecting her second child, Matthew
Robin expecting her second child, Matthew
Robin, oldest son Christopher and newborn Matthew
Robin, oldest son Christopher and newborn Matthew
Robin kissing baby Laura at her first supervised visitation.
Robin kissing baby Laura at her first supervised visitation.
Robin Karr 1
Robin with Laura and Matthew at her last supervised visitation in 2004. She never saw them again.
Robin with Laura and Matthew at her last supervised visitation in 2004. She never saw them again.
Robin today-striving to keep strong every day.
Robin today-striving to keep strong every day.
Robin pregnant with Laura
Robin pregnant with Laura
Robin and Matthew, first Christmas
Robin and Matthew, first Christmas

To read more about her story:

Something Is Rotten in the State of Texas

A Bright Beam in a Dark Forest

Anatomy of a Broken Heart: A Screenplay

Anatomy of a Broken Heart: A Screenplay

 ”Ma’am, give him the children and there won’t be any trouble. Alright? Do you understand? Just give Mr. Duckworth the children.”–Kentucky State Trooper Elliot

Brash talk show host Wendy Williams profoundly angered a multitude of mothers–custodial and non-custodial alike–with a flippant remark on her TV show yesterday. She devoted a portion of her show toward lambasting beleaguered Texas mom Pilar Sanders, who  lost custody of her three children to football hero Deion Sanders last month, for her emotional distress.

Williams contemptuously declared: ”When a man gets custody, the mother is full of crazy.” She concluded by saying,  ”I would say good luck, but I’ll just say oh well.”

That Williams is a mother herself isn’t the only reason for outrage; in her big booming voice she embodies the lack of empathy, of understanding, of the plight of so many mothers who are losing their children to a lopsided legal system. This system continually, and increasingly, favors the fathers–to the point of literally taking the children away from their mothers forever. And then society steps in to join the condemnation by ridiculing the bereft mother’s pain and laughing and scoffing at her concern for her children and her pleas for justice.

Playwright/scriptwriter Christopher Karr wrote a poignant, spot-on (because he was there) screenplay chronicling the day his younger siblings from his mother Robin Karr‘s second marriage,  Matthew and Laura, were taken away from their home on court orders.

Already too old for his years from his experience watching an abusive system punish his mother for protecting all three of her children, Christopher was just a boy of 13 when he wrote this heart-searing screenplay. Technically powerless to do anything about what he witnessed–as would be anyone–he not only watched in horror but tried his valiant boyish best to intervene.

 ”Matthew and Laura”

By Christopher Karr

OVER BLACK;

INSERT–TITLE CARD

This movie is based SOLELY upon a true story.

INSERT–IMAGE

Photo of MATTHEW (2) and LAURA (1) with their mother ROBIN in a restaurant at a supervised visit in Rockwall Texas. Matthew and Laura have OBVIOUSLY been brutally beaten. Matthew has a black eye and Laura has a large scrape across her forehead. Robin is holding them, forcing a smile.

Robin Karr 1

HOLD FOR 30 SEC., THEN:

CUT TO:

EXT. TRAILER PARK—SUMMER/DAY

Establishing shot.

CUT TO:

INT. TRAILER—THAT MOMENT

WIDE shot of Robin, SHANNON, JANICE, CHRISTOPHER, Matthew, and Laura in the kitchen. They say nothing for a long time. Not a move. Nothing. CAMERA pushes in REAL QUICK on Robin, who is holding Laura. She stares into space for a BEAT:

                 ROBIN (VO)

               They’ve got bottles, formula, bibs, diapers, medicine, blankets, Barney and toys. That should do for at least a weekend of this insane arrangement. They should be here any minute to run away with my two babies into the great state of Texas, to do with them what they please. I wish Matthew were old enough to testify. I wish none of this were happening.

CAMERA pushes in on Matthew who is sucking on his pacifier. HOLD, then:

CAMERA pushes in on Janice, who is washing and cleaning bottles out for the twenty-one hour trip to Texas:

JANICE (VO)

Dear Heavenly Father: You have a plan for these two precious babies. I know that. I know that you have a reason for them to be sent into an abusive situation every other weekend. I realize that you must have a plan in all of this. I pray that you send your angels to protect and watch over our babies as they sleep at night. And if Neil Duckworth should raise a hand to harm a hair on one of their heads, I pray that you will send one of those angels to stop him. Thank you, Lord. Thank you,

Lord…

CAMERA pushes in on Christopher (13) who has his arms crossed, and is switching glances from Matthew to Laura to Robin to Janice:

            CHRISTOPHER (VO)

               Matthew and Laura have no idea what they’re getting ready to go into. Matthew doesn’t even remember what Ed’s dad did to him last Valentine’s Day. He could’ve died that night. In a way, I guess it’s good he can’t remember. But then again… God, give them peace.

CAMERA pushes in on SHANNON now. She bites her lip and stares into space with everyone else.

SHANNON (VO)

               How did Robin get into all of this in the first place? She hasn’t ever hurt those babies or Ed and she never would. What in God’s name could she have ever seen in Ed Duckworth? Maybe we’ll all find out the answer someday…

EXT. TRAILER PARK—THAT MOMENT

CAMERA zooms in on a tan Chevrolet Tahoe with a Kentucky state police car following behind it. Both vehicles pull onto the gravel road. CAMERA is hand-held and shaky as it follows OFFICER ELLIOT to the front door of the trailer. The door is opened just as he’s about to walk up the front steps and ROBIN comes out, followed by JANICE. We can see CHRISTOPHER and SHANNON peeping through the window.

           OFFICER ELLIOT

               Mrs. Duckworth, I want you to know that there is a video camera and tape recorder on the police cruiser recording the words spoken during this exchange. Do you understand this?

               ROBIN

               What do you mean?

               OFFICER ELLIOT

               Do you understand the words that just came out of my mouth, Mrs. Duckworth? Do you understand the conditions of this exchange?

               ROBIN

               What do you mean “This exchange”? This isn’t just an exchange. These are my children, I-

               OFFICER ELLIOT

               Mrs. Duckworth, I’m just here as a favor for Mr. Duckworth. He asked me to come to make sure you weren’t hostile and to be sure that you are going to cooperate with the instructions made by the judge in Texas who heard this case. Alright? Do you comprehend this, Mrs. Duckworth?

               ROBIN

               I comprehend, but-

The conversation continues between OFFICER ELLIOT and ROBIN as CAMERA pans RIGHT to CAROLYN (50s), ED’S MOTHER, who is taking pictures of the trailer. JANICE sees her and comes out the front door, walking towards CAROLYN. CAMERA follows ED as he exits the passenger side and makes his way past JANICE to stand behind OFFICER ELLIOT.

      ED

               Now Robin, don’t be foolish about this. Are you gonna give me the children or not?

               ROBIN

                Ed, why are you being this way? Why do you want to put these children back into abuse? They don’t deserve that! You can’t tell me that you don’t remember the night that Neil body slammed Matthew and almost broke his neck. Don’t you remember? You said that your parents would destroy our children. Remember the night your mother burned Matthews’s throat and mouth? Remember what you told me that meant? Please tell me you are not going to let them have our babies.

               ED

                Are you gonna give me the children?

               ROBIN

                Ed, tell me you remember. Don’t act like that didn’t happen. Don’t tell me they have you that brainwashed into believing that none of the abuse really happened!

               ED

               Robin, are you gonna give me the children?

ROBIN

               Ed, why are you doing this? Why –

ROBIN and ED continue to audibly argue as the camera pans back to

 JANICE, walking over to CAROLYN, who is still taking pictures of the

trailer.

               JANICE

               What are you doing? What do you think you’re doing? What are you taking pictures of my home?

JANICE gets closer and closer to CAROLYN, but CAROLYN continues to take

 Pictures, paying no regard to JANICE – as she continues to ask her questions. Finally, CAROLYN appears to be finished taking pictures, turns to walk back to the Tahoe, being careful not to say a word to JANICE.

Once CAROLYN is safely in the Tahoe, she rolls up her window and stares blankly at JANICE, as Janice continues to ask questions.

CAMERA does a REAL QUICK 180 degree turn to view the front door of the trailer. ED is now standing on the front porch, with his hands held out. ROBIN is inside, frantically moving from one spot to the other, trying to prepare everything for the babies’ trip. CHRISTOPHER stomps onto the porch and drops the babies diaper bag at ED’S feet.

CAMERA pushes in on CHRISTOPHER as he looks hard at Ed.

                 You’re just a loser Ed and you know it.

ED looks at CHRISTOPHER even harder, but says nothing as CHRISTOPHER walks back into the trailer.

ROBIN steps out the door with MATTHEW – holding him tight.

               ROBIN

                He’s had diarrhea Ed and has been vomiting since last week. Do you know how to handle that? Do you know what to do? You need to call his doctor in Rockwall if anything goes wrong or if he gets worse. You need to give him his medicine. Alright?

               (pause)

               What do you think you’re gonna do with these babies, Ed? You don’t know -, you don’t have a clue how to take care of another human being. You can’t even take care of yourself. How do you expect to take care of these babies, Ed?

ROBIN holds MATTHEW back from ED.

               ED

               Robin, are you gonna give me the children? Are you gonna give me the children, Robin?

CAMERA spins REAL QUICK to OFFICER ELLIOT.

               OFFICER ELLIOT

               Ma’am, give him the children and there won’t be any trouble. Alright? Do you understand? Just give Mr. Duckworth the children –

OFFICER ELLIOT continues to bark instructions at ROBIN as ED continues to repeatedly ask if Robin is going to hand over the children in monotone. The CAMERA spins from situation to situation, and then back to ED, who VIOLENTLY SNATCHES MATTHEW from ROBIN, who has her head turned asking CHRISTOPHER something about LAURA.

      ED

               Give me the other child, Robin. Give me the other child now and I’ll be on my way-

CAMERA cuts to ROBIN, who is staring at ED, HOLD; Then:

ROBIN with tears streaming down her cheeks tells Christopher to get LAURA.

CHRISTOPHER

               But Mom . . .

ROBIN

               Christopher, get her – just get her.

CHRISTOPHER doesn’t budge for A BEAT, then as his eyes shrink wrap in tears, he walks back into the trailer to get LAURA.

CAMERA holds on ROBIN who is frozen in shock while CHRISTOPHER bustles in the background for toys, bottles, etc.

CHRISTOPHER shows back up at the door with LAURA and hands her to ED, who is stiff and intimidating. ED takes her and hands her to OFFICER ELLIOT, who carries her to the Tahoe as CAMERA follows.

Once at the Tahoe, JANICE directs her attention from CAROLYN to OFFICER ELLIOT:

               JANICE

               And what are you doing here? You have no jurisdiction to be on my property. You can’t come here on your own time and expect to able to have a say in a matter this serious and under conditions this ludicrous as a mere favor to another person. Does the state police post know about this? Do they know you are here? You’re an officer of the law, for crying out loud! How do –

We continue to hear JANICE and OFFICER ELLIOT audibly argue in the background as the CAMERA does a REAL QUICK SPIN to ZOOM IN to the front porch of the trailer. ED is standing in front of the door with his arms crossed and a blank look on his face. CHRISTOPHER is standing opposite ED and as soon as ROBIN goes inside once more to make sure everything is packed, CHRISTOPHER steps cautiously towards ED:

In one fluid motion, CHRISTOPHER jumps on ED, grabs him by his collar, pulls him close and spits in his face

               CHRISTOPHER

               “I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO’S GONNA BE STRONG ENOUGH TO PROTECT THOSE BABIES AND IF YOU HURT ‘EM, I SWEAR I’LL MAKE YOU PAY FOR IT, FAGGOT!!

Just as OFFICER ELLIOT spots this scene, ROBIN comes running and pulls CHRISTOPHER off of ED, who is wiping spit from his eyes.

As OFFICER ELLIOT talks to ED and CHRISTOPHER about the altercation that just took place:

ROBIN bolts to the Tahoe, quickly followed by OFFICER ELLIOT, where MATTHEW and LAURA are being strapped into unfamiliar car seats by CAROLYN – who says nothing to MATTHEW OR LAURA. Both babies are crying.  Screaming. OFFICER ELLIOT gently and forcefully pushes ROBIN away from seeing distance of the children. He backs her back onto the porch and REMAINS at the bottom of the steps, keeping SHANNON, ROBIN, CHRISTOPHER and JANICE on the porch, seemingly guarding them like a dog.

ALL AUDIBLE SOUND DROPS OUT.

CAMERA is hand held and shaky once again. It is the collective POV of the little family of ROBIN, JANICE, SHANNON and CHRISTOPHER. CAMERA flies up to VIEW the TAHOE pulling away in a cloud of dust.  CAMERA drops back to OFFICER ELLIOT taking a call on his CB, and then to CHRISTOPHER standing stern, arms crossed:

CHRISTOPHER (VO)

            I guess that was when it hit her.

HE LOOKS over to ROBIN. CAMERA follows his stare:

ROBIN is standing on the porch, COMPLETELY ZONED OUT; JANICE and SHANNON walk over to try to comfort her, but ROBIN only stares ahead and eventually and slowly slides out of the view of the CAMERA, leaving CAMERA to look nowhere other than the dusty blue sky.

FADE TO BLACK

Finally, here is a Christopher wrote to his brother Matthew not long after his two siblings were taken by the law:

Christopher's letter

Christopher Karr is now a playwright, having just moved from New York City to Austin. This is how he dedicated the opening performance of his first play:  ”For my mom, the strongest tree in the forest.”

So, Ms. Williams–much has been made by you in the media of your personal struggles with drug addiction, plastic surgery, and most especially your despair in your difficulties conceiving a child. The world rejoiced with you at the arrival of your son in… what, 1999? He’d be… about 15 now? The same age as my oldest? Only two years older than the author of this screenplay? Would you care to make a crack now about this boy’s understandable emotional distress and deep adolescent angst that he could do nothing?

Would you like to try to reconcile your lofty, dismissive views with the gallery of images below showing a beaming big brother proudly holding his new little siblings?

I didn’t think so.

A Bright Beam in a Dark Forest

“I never asked anything of the world. But it’s a perfect hell on earth to give a woman children to love and to rob her of them.”
~ Maud Hill

When I set out to write my book Hanging On By My Fingernails: Surviving the New Divorce Gamesmanship, and How a Scratch Can Land You in Jail, I had no idea what “divorce gamesmanship” was, and I had no idea how a scratch could land you in jail.

I knew a pretty small, quite accidental scratch could land you in jail because it happened to me. I knew I must have been on the receiving end of legal manipulations. That was all.  I could only see the dark forest, not the way through it.

I began interviewing legal and police experts, DV advocates and dozens of people whom a HARO (Help A Reporter Out) query revealed like glimmering pieces of a puzzle. The completed puzzle, which casts light on this crazy-common, under-reported and little-understood subject,  is this book.

I hear often from people whom the book has helped. Lately, I’ve been deluged with responses about recent blog posts. Many posts asked more questions whose answers I didn’t know: How is it happening that mothers are losing custody–even modest visitation– of their children? Why is their scrupulously-researched, hard evidence often refused admittance by judges? Why are  children’s drawings depicting parental abuse ignored? Why do the outcomes of so many custody cases seem predetermined before they even began, despite evidence, testimony, witnesses, and thousands on thousands of dollars mothers raise somehow and desperately turn over to the legal system and all the different “experts” and court affiliates who are a part of it?

Once again I found myself in a dim place in which I knew what was happening but couldn’t for the life of me understand how.

One respondee, Robin Karr, who I wrote about last week in my most-read post ever, experienced one of the most painful court custody cases I’ve ever known. Her case teetered step by step into a complete severance of her ties with them in 1999, by court appointment. They’re lost. From where Robin sits, they are milk-carton lost. She does not know them. They are beautiful faces in pictures from long ago.

Unlike many who’ve experienced or heard about this situation, however, Robin does have the answers. Robin recently learned that his Kentucky attorney (he had two; the other was in Texas) was convicted on federal extortion conspiracy charges in 2011. As I was uncovering answers to questions from my own divorce, which, much to my utter joy, resulted in my winning primary custody of my children, she was investigating her far more complex puzzle. Because suddenly, the essential pieces of her life–her children–weren’t there.

The last formal picture Robin Karr has of her children, Matthew and Laura Duckworth
The last formal picture Robin Karr has of her children, Matthew and Laura Duckworth, now ages 15 and 16

The key pieces to even the most difficult puzzle can be found often hidden in plain sight. I think facts speak for themselves, and I believe hearing and seeing the intense emotions and real situations experienced by the people who find themselves in the midst of them are critical to begin to comprehend the facts. Some of them are hard to look at–they make us uncomfortable; they make us sad–but  seeing reality is necessary. Without being willing to keep eyes and ears open, we miss opportunities to learn. Yet with this knowledge comes hope and the ability to help others–and from my personal experience, understanding and being understood are fulfilling in a way blissful oblivion can never be.

Like all stories, Robin’s has a backstory, a middle story, an outcome, and a present. In emotionally charged heartbreaking stories like hers, I guess she probably experiences all of them at once, every day. So in understanding the full implications and all facets of her story, the what, the why, the who and the how, we’re going to start with the middle with a letter Robin wrote to her children one year after the court issued its final severance of her ties with them.

June 21, 2000 

My precious, precious babies… I don’t know where to begin or even how to begin. I just know that I have to try to put into words what my life is like without you. I’m sitting in my kitchen (which you have never seen), and I’m crying… and crying. I’m staring at the magnets on the refrigerator. 

There’s an apple and a  banana with happy little faces smiling at me; reminding me of you. And if I shut my eyes really tight, I can almost see you, Matthew, standing there playing with them and you Laura laughing at your brother. You used to laugh at your brother a lot. You were such a happy baby Laura; always laughing, always smiling.

I’m also staring at a half-empty pan of french fries left over from supper. And… if I shut my eyes really, really tight, I can almost hear you, Matthew, squealing “fry-by”, “fry-by”. I don’t think that’s really a word, but that’s what you used to call french fries. I wonder what you call them now… you used to love McDonald’s French fries. Every time I drive by a McDonald’s, I hear you cry out “fry-by”, fry-by”. It seems so real sometimes. I’ve even looked over my shoulder at the back seat expecting to see you there; there in your car seat kicking and squirming.

But, you’re not there. You haven’t been there for a long time. I still have your car seat, though. I haven’t even had the courage to put it away. And Laura, I still have your little carrier; the one I brought you home from the hospital in. You were my Christmas baby… my gift from God. The alarm will go off in about two hours, and I will have to begin yet another day. I will have to find the courage to get through another day without my babies.

Your big brother Christopher helps Mommy to go on… I wonder if you even remember your brother. I bet you do, Matthew. You used to love playing “basketball” with your “brubber”. “Brubber” would hold you up so you could dunk the ball.  That always made you so happy. You would say “do it again, do it again!”

And Laura, you were content to watch your brothers. You had so much peace. You were such a secure baby. You were taken from your Mommy when you were only nine months old.  I don’t know if you even remember me. I pray somehow you do. I pray God fills the void… you and your brother belong to God. I gave you both back to him just before your daddy took you. I know that god is watching over you. Mommy prays for that day… that day I will hold you once again and kiss you, feed you, bathe you and most of all… put you to bed. What I would give just to watch you sleep.

Psalms 34:18 says that God is near to those with a broken heart. Mommy’s heart is broken. But, God is near. He’s with Mommy, and he’s with you… my precious, precious babies.

What A Mom Does

When I was growing up, I studied piano. Whenever I got in trouble, I’d go to the piano and play this very sad song, Rock Me To Sleep, from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook. It was my go-to song to make my mother feel misty and guilty she fussed at me for making hot chocolate in her Mr. Coffee. Again.

It goes like this:

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,

Make me a child again just for tonight!

Mother, come back from the echoless shore,

Take me again to your heart as of yore;

Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,

Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;

Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;—

Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

I can’t play it now. Being a mother now, the song, which Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote made even grown men tear up, makes me too sad. Lately, it makes me wonder what happened to society so that Doing Without Mama—no, Banishing Mama– is so simple and practical that it’s easy as taking her to court, “proving” her unfitness to do what she is born to do, and convincing a judge and jury that the children and the larger family will be far better off with her out of the way.

So after a solid 45 minutes of rocking my 4-year-old little girl in my arms last night and singing Rock A Bye Baby over and over at her insistence, I wondered if a dad would be patient enough to do this. Probably not. But it’s what she needed, this big 4-year-old girl. The blissful expression on her face (besides her adamant pleas, “Again!”) told me so.

So today, I’m writing about what a mom does. First, I will state for the record that my husband can out-delight me with his games and antics with the children, and he can out cook me too. I never worry for a second when I leave the house for even an extended while because he’s got it all under control. He has an eagle eye from swim instruction days, and he’s as good with children as anyone I’ve ever seen.

But here is what a Mom does:

  • Moms have an edge on patience. We teach our kids to count as we painstakingly cut up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until we’ve ended up with 16 pieces. We play Toddler Radio in the car when we’re DYING to listen to The Shins or Sheryl Crow or Metallica or whatever we prefer, because we’re never in the car alone.
  • We take children to library story time, we take little boys to the ballet and expect them to appreciate it, and we take little ones to the museum when they have no clue what they’re looking at. We take books everywhere, so that even in a pediatric waiting room, the kids would rather read the favorites we brought rather than handle the dog-eared commercial books on hand or even watch the TV.
  • We nag older kids to wrap up or at least wear sleeves, for Lord’s sake. IT’S 45 DEGREES OUT and it won’t get any warmer until noon! We chase them down at the bus stop with a forgotten lunch. We’ve been known to drive to the school with forgotten lunches we sheepishly deposit at the front desk (so we won’t embarrass the fool out of them by appearing at their homeroom door). Lunch-stalkers? Yeah, probably. We just don’t want them to be hungry, is all.
  • We plunk errant school kids down at the computer to do math drills until they’ve got it mastered. Our husbands are all, “Let him flunk the test and get really scared when he faces summer school.” Dads know the male mind. But we’re over here like, “Let’s not resort to scare tactics that would work extraordinarily well. He really needs to know his math, and to feel some mastery of it.” Dad shrugs and walks away while our kid tries to sneak off to game with his friends as we scour the Internet for math drill sites.
  • We devise clever ways to trick our teens into spilling their guts. Maybe we’ll play a few lives of that too-violent video game Dad got them and while we’re having fun and they’re focused in the way males tend to be when they have something on their mind, they tell us.
  • Moms tell stories. Often we tell stories about how we grew up and what we did. Yesterday when my little girl pulled on the mini-shopping cart as we were rolling around the frozen foods section, it toppled over and so did she. It didn’t hit her, but she remained in a frozen ball of mortification for several minutes. When she finally let me pick her up, her face was as red as I’ve ever seen it and her eyes brimmed over with tears. I held her a moment and then said, “Susu, you know what Mommy did when she was a little girl? She drove one of those big huge shopping carts into a freestanding aisle of wine and crashed the whole thing to pieces.” She laughed and we went over to the bakery to get a cookie.

These things are probably universal to most Moms. We are eerily alike. We nurture. We think, we ponder, and we empathize. We over-empathize. We over-react. We kiss it and make it better. We make scary things funny. We worry about silly lullaby lyrics when we suddenly realize we’re singing about a baby that falls out of a tree IN HIS CRADLE. What happened to the baby? Who the hell put him up there and where did this horror story of a lullaby come from? (If you’re like me, you immediately go look it up because the origins of nursery rhymes and lullabies are fascinating. OK, this makes me a dork.)

We Moms are walking, living, breathing hearts. Our hearts leave with our children every day, and the more children we have, the more pieces there are to go around. We make utter fools out of ourselves for our children and don’t give a rip. We give birth in hospital rooms with strangers roaming about, and only care about one thing: That baby and its health. We don’t stop being worried about that baby and its health for the rest of our days.

In reviewing this, I realize we seem almost as creepy and obsessed as that mom in the Robert Munsch book Love You Forever, who rides by her grown son’s house at night with a ladder strapped to the car roof (when he might well have lady company?! Hello?).

But it’s all about a mother’s essence to Make Things OK. Our lives are spent Making Things OK and Worrying If They’re Not. More than that, We Worry That They Might Not Be OK. We want to reassure our children that no matter what they do, and no matter how big they get and we can’t pick them up anymore, they’ll have the memory of their mother’s arms, where they will always be safe and loved.

These family courts and sadistic fathers’ groups and lawyers not only strive to deprive the mothers of raising their children, but deprive their children of the lifetime memories of what their mothers did for them and how much they loved them. Do they not remember being rocked to sleep?

Something Is Rotten in the State of Texas

Robin Karr with her two younger children Credit: Robin Karr

Just a couple of days ago, as I continued to follow the outrageously lopsided Deion and Pilar Sanders child custody case, I said aloud that if I heard about one more instance of legal bullying and abuse against women by the state of Texas, I would scream.

And lo, just this morning I received an achingly plaintive e-mail in response to my blog last week musing if we’re headed toward becoming a nation of motherless children. This e-mail made me feel a bit guilty for thinking I had a reason to scream just because of another news report, when Robin Karr’s life since her two youngest children were literally ripped from her arms in a Texas courtroom, has been one endless, soul-searing howl.

“My two youngest children were taken from me before turning 1 and 2 via their abusive father and a corrupt family court judge in Texas,” Robin wrote. “My children never came home. I do not know them.”

Never came home? She doesn’t know them? I was stunned. How could this be? I read on.  “I was only permitted five supervised visits over the years and none since 2004. My children have been denied their birthright – the right to know and be loved by their own mother. I was arrested at one point for breaking down in court and crying when I was told I could no longer see my children even supervised.”

Although I covered crime and legal issues for years, I never heard a court of law inflict such cruelty. Aside from denying Robin her right to exist as a mother, what utter lack of empathy and basic humanity would prompt a judge to order an agonizing mother to jail for exhibiting her pain? This isn’t the first time I’ve wondered if we live in a country that sadistically punishes mothers with the emotional equivalent of stoning: taking away their children and severing their relationships so that some are truly gone forever. I know stoning and misogynistic custody rulings are not the same thing. But most mothers will make the connection.

Moreover, people like Robin Karr have experienced a lack of any recourse whatsoever. Once that door closes, in some cases, the mother can break her fists beating on that door for years and years, but it is sealed shut, never to be opened again. A mother asks for an appeal, and there is no one to hear her,  nowhere to go. In Robin’s case, the very people who should have been helping her, instead betrayed her and propagated the cruelty.

Here is a recent, tremendously powerful series of news stories on Karr’s case, by a Canadian reporter. Pay close attention to Story 2, and what happened when Karr approached a Texas fathers’ rights organization.

  1. A Mother Claims That Corruption in Family Courts Ruined her Life
  2. A Mother’s Battle with Parental Alienation: 15 Years Later
  3. Corruption in Family Court Doesn’t Stop with a Judge or a Lawyer
  4. Robin Karr: A Great Story of Courage and Survival

I’m glad another reporter documented this story so we can start asking questions NOW and demanding answers. Instead of just monitoring news reports—and as a journalist, I’m as guilty of following news on a fact-by-fact, non-emotional level as anyone–I would ask everyone to put real thought into what’s actually happening. What horror would you feel if this happened to you? If you don’t have children, imagine a loved one, or perhaps a beloved pet, ripped suddenly and without reason from your arms by a system run by real people that not only don’t care, but appear to thrive on your financial losses and broken spirit?

I mention Pilar Sanders a great deal because she’s in the news daily, and her exact situation is described vividly in my book, Hanging On By My Fingernails: Surviving the New Divorce Gamesmanship, and How a Scratch Can Land You in Jail. Last summer when the Sanders divorce games started, I and a primary book contributor, Atlanta  family lawyer Randy Kessler were leaping out of our seats trying to get people to listen because we knew exactly what was happening.

I’m still trying to understand how it was legally possible for a judge to overturn a jury verdict granting Pilar joint custody of her daughter—would someone please tell me?—but one thing clearly visible is the backlash she has gotten, all the names and seemingly baseless accusations being hurled at her. Human nature often has us rooting for a side, a certain team. What team has more allure and glamor than Team Deion Sanders?

Please read carefully these stories about divorce and custody cases. See for yourself how the “winners” in these cases might not only have taken children away from their mother, but how the winners gloat and revel in it. Look at the system that enables—heck, encourages—it. Stop throwing stones at the mother. Stop automatically rooting for the winning “team.” LOOK. The real situation is in full sight–it’s just hard to see it because of those shiny-armored persons who deflect the truth. And, unfortunately, they’re armed by none other than states like Texas.

A Nation of Motherless Children?

Last night I sat shivering on the bleachers with the other parents during a Little League pre-season scrimmage. Surveying the mix, I noted mostly moms and sibling hangers-on. Dads certainly attended too, and there were a few dotted here and there, but this was an early game probably more easily attended by stay-home moms and parents who rushed home early from work to get their kids there on time.

(Good men and dads, you know I’m a fan. I respect you and I write about that often. Today I’m writing solely about good moms.)

This simple scene of moms doing daily routine tending of their children–undoubtedly some like me who probably struggled to rustle everyone into the car, swipe a baby wipe across reluctant little faces, make sure the baseball player dressed out, filled up his tank with an egg salad sandwich and a bowl of soup, and toted a Powerade along with his new bat– pressed me to think about the freshest rash of divorce and custody cases that have led to mothers somehow losing full custody of their children.

This meaning, not being granted joint custody, or even generous visitation. In some of the more severely manipulated cases, the tables were turned on mothers who sought to protect their children from abusive fathers; they were punished in family court and by the abusive parent. Many are limited to a couple hours’ supervised visitation every two weeks. They don’t have the privilege of shaking on the bleachers with the rest of us, who naturally take such excursions for granted. Many times there’s a protective order that would keep them from attending even public events such as this, when all they long to do is see their children in action, and enjoy a game to break up a brutal week of missing their children.

Meanwhile, we lucky moms in the stands weren’t relegated to just chauffeurs, egg-salad-sandwich pushers, and spectators. One 13-yr-old waved his bat and proudly yelled to his mom in his cracking adolescent voice, that he was “Second!” in the batting order; another player came to sit by his mom after he’d scored a run. After pulling a muscle diving for a ball in left field, my son limped over to tell me he was OK, then limped back to the dugout to watch his teammates play. These ever-bigger, gangly teens who regularly deny they need anyone? They need their moms, and they show it as unabashedly and exuberantly as preschoolers.

Pilar Sanders, soon to be ex of Deion Sanders, is the latest, very public, example of a good mom in most people’s eyes except Deion’s (who stands, and stood, to gain from positing she was not a good mom, because that would mean he might have to share custody, i.e., share money). I don’t even remember what he said to imply she wasn’t a good mom. He just hurled the same mud-balls spouses hurl to make isolated incidents look like daily rampages, which is things taken out of context at their worst. (Courts could use a few solid journalists around to make sure this doesn’t happen, but I digress.)

But back on my civilian side of the news, I saw that Pilar wept when she heard the restrictive visitation when the jury ruled Deion would retain custody of her two sons. Any mom would break down about this. But she and her legal team were further shocked at an abrupt turn around in a jury decision that enabled her to share custody of her daughter with Deion. Just the next day, something made the judge change his mind. Her daughter is now in sole custody of Deion too. Although attributed to a “petition” to the judge from Deion and his lawyers, what backstage negotiation went behind that one is a mystery.

Do you know the spiritual, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child? All these sad, one-winner cases make me wonder if we’re heading toward a nation of motherless children. It might sound melodramatic, but think about it. More and more, money is the sole deciding factor–the winner’s money, perhaps money he shares with people who enable him to win. I suspect it’s the same money that could have been spent on child support or working together in a joint situation, but that seems a matter off the table.

Money should not be a deciding factor–or much of a factor at all, except for basic expenses for leading a secure life. Lately, child custody is being awarded to the bread-winner (who is usually the father). Is being raised in a household of privilege, when the source of the privilege is away all the time and the child-rearing is done by hired professionals or a live-in grandparent, better than being raised modestly by the one who nurtured the child from birth, better? If so, why? Why can’t the parent who makes more money help the parent who does not–who often has chosen a parenting path over his or her career–give the child what he or she needs to thrive day to day? And then when the child is with the wealthier parent, then that parent can lavish the child as he or she sees fit? Why does it have to be either/or?

I remember some words my mom quoted to my ex when we were going through divorce, when he was going for sole custody of our two sons. She said, “When a soldier is wounded or feels alone on the battlefield, he cries out for his mother.” Why? It’s not because a mother is more important than a father. Children need both–indeed, that’s how they came into being. But mothers are the nurturers, the givers of life. Fathers can be wonderful nurturers too, and there are times when a mother isn’t a suitable parent and the father does far better. He, then, should have custody of the children. He is the better care-giver.

But for the fine mothers, the ones whose parenting role is the essence of her being? We are built–BUILT–to nurture our children. Our bodies are designed so. I applauded the post of a man to Pilar Sanders’  Twitter feed a couple of days ago, saying no matter how much he disliked his ex, he would never willfully keep his child from his mother. I’m not crazy about dealing with my ex either, though we’re more friendly now, but he’s a good dad, and I would never wish my children to lead fatherless lives.

What kind of man goes to every length and expense possible to deny his children a healthy, some would say critical, portion of motherly love in their lives? Or not even that–what kind of man begrudges his ex any meaningful contact with her own children? Is this not evidence he could be lacking as a father? If not, why? Sorry about that failed relationship, man, but the children from it remain. Lucky you to have a magic wallet to make it all go away.

It’s time to stop treating kids as chattel instead of children. Children who need both parents as full participants and nurturers in their lives.

New Workbook Helps You Sort Out Details of Divorce

This new workbook from Transitions Resource, LLC gives you all the tools you need to get critical documentation down about all specifics for your divorce. In a way it’s akin to a family thrust into heavy decision-making after the death of a loved one, an emotionally charged time that makes such tasks extremely difficult. (I felt quite honored when I was asked to write the foreword, because this workbook is as powerful as it is useful.) Check out this new press release from Vocus:

Transitions Resource Announces the Release of Transitions- A Divorce Prep Workbook that Serves as a Guide in the Divorce Process

Transitions Resource, LLC, a Divorce Consumer Advocacy, is proud to announce the
publishing of Transitions- A Divorce Prep Workbook. This newly published workbook offers
easy step-by-step instructions on what one should know and a how-to guide to help minimize
conflict and expenses in the divorce process.

Kelley Linn, President of Transitions Resource, LLC states, “Our new workbook provides the answers necessary to help minimize legal fees, shorten the legal process and help one prepare for financial independence. The workbook acts as a guide to deal with present and future financial issues. If not properly prepared, a divorce can create a life-time of emotional and financial burdens.”

The Divorce Prep workbook provides “ to do” action items prior to securing a Divorce Attorney. This includes what documents will be needed, what information to gather, and advice on how to prepare for financial and custodial divorce negotiations. Furthermore, the book covers topics such as insurance needs, custody considerations for minor children, practical financial considerations regarding the family home and how to minimize expenses and maximize tax deduction implications. If needed, information includes help with domestic violence situations.

According to Kelley Linn, one of the most important sections of the workbook is the information on how to hire an attorney. This section will aid in asking the right questions to help make sure an affordable and experienced attorney is handling the case.

What Users of the book say:

Jane S., Former Transitions Client “Transitions provided all the information and resources I needed to navigate my way through the spider web madness of separation and divorce. I was educated, prepared and in charge!”

Darla M., Former Transitions Client “Lot’s of preparation to do, I had no idea! The guidebook was a lifesaver!”

Nina L., LMFT, Licensed Therapist “Your Guidebook is a much needed resource and will help many people. I have already referred many clients to Transitions.”

Starting in June 2013, Transitions Resource will be offering an Accredited Family Divorce Advanced Continuing Educational Series (16 Credit Hours) to educate professional counselors on how to best serve their Divorcing Clients. Included in this Advanced CE Series will be an introduction of a therapeutic clinical tool that counselors can use to help their clients process the grief of the change in their family and springboard into a joyful/hopeful future moving forward post-divorce.

You may visit the Transitions Resource website to learn more about the Workbook and upcoming classes in your area. The Divorce Prep Workbook is now available on their website and Amazon.com.

The Latest From www.HopeAfterDivorce.Org

I’m very excited to have been asked to contribute to one of the best divorce resources for men and women on the Net, www.hopeafterdivorce.org, which shares content with www.familyshare.com, an extensive network with 17 million subscribers. My first article ran this week. It’s based on a former blog post and bulked up with more information. My area of expertise falls into the legal as well as relationship realms. I’m not a legal professional but a journalist whose beats have mostly concentrated on criminal and legal matters. Moreover, as most people know, I have firsthand experience with some of the dirtier legal maneuvering, something I am passionate about sharing so others may avoid it. Here, then, are some of the biggest reasons why ignoring red flags can cost you everything: LEGAL

Why Ignoring Red Flags Can Cost You Everything by: Janie McQueen Wherever divorce is concerned, whether in considering my own divorce or those of people who contact me, I try to stick to the tenet of “keeping heart and soul intact.” That is, not to take actions

Wife and Mother Burned Alive for Witchcraft

I, like most people I’m sure, am horrified and outraged about the report of the accused witch being burned alive by a mob. The latest is the prime suspect–the woman’s husband and presumably father of her child–has fled and not one person has been arrested (despite the shocked throng of witnesses who gathered).

This report adds: “The US has called for a partnership to help reduce violence against women in the Pacific.”

I have no idea what this means, or who in New Guinea would be the reciprocal party (even the police claim they couldn’t get through) but I have to say that we’re not doing too hot reducing violence against women on our own turf either. With #VAWA up for reconsideration, and still being stonewalled, it looks like some of us remain in a state of disbelief that our women and children (and men, too, who are underreported victims of domestic violence) are the victims of some pretty outrageous abuse.

Maybe accusing people of sorcery and if found guilty of inflicting harm on someone else, burning them alive, wouldn’t go over too hot here. But just because we don’t always see what goes on behind closed doors–including those of the courtroom, and including all the legal abuse that often drives the victim straight out of society and practically onto the street–doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

Like the witnesses to the horrible New Guinea murder, there are lots of people who would testify about what they see and experience. It’s just that no one seems to want to listen.

Questions to Ask A Divorce Attorney

I’m following up my blog post on how to find an attorney with a handy list of questions to ask  once you zero in on a few good prospects. I recently wrote the foreword for The Transitions Divorce Prep Workbook, a thorough and user-friendly guide that at only $35 lays down every detail in gathering and organizing all the resources you need as you approach a divorce. Divorce is a business deal; but as in the death of a loved one and the burden of planning a funeral thrust on a time of high emotions, it can be difficult to make those calls and get the house in order.

Transitions lays it all out for you. With permission, I’m excerpting some key questions to ask your prospective attorney:

  • Have you ever handled a case like mine?
    (Transitions gives a guideline to creating a one-page case summary so you can present your case’s specific variables)
  • How do you usually communicate with your clients?
  • Are you flat fee or billable hour based? What retainer fee do you require?
  • Do you prefer to go to court or negotiate out of court?
  • How many cases have you settled in the past 12 months, and how many required a hearing or trial to be settled?
  • What specific steps would you take in handling a case like mine?
  • Can you provide me 2 to 3 names of former clients I can speak with regarding your services?

Pay close attention to the answers about going to trial. You want an attorney who prefers to negotiate out of court, which is certainly more cost prohibitive and easier on the family; but you also do not want an attorney who is afraid to go to court if your case dictates. It would be healthy to hear about most cases being swiftly settled out of court, with a few doozies successfully going to trial.

Listen for evidence of the attorney’s predilection toward divorce cases; i.e., does he or she seem to be a proponent of “divorce gamesmanship”–tossing out land mines that will trap your ex or up your ante in the divorce– or does he have an eye toward the end goal, i.e., creating peace for you and your children, and preferably a harmonious co-parenting relationship with your soon to be ex?

My attorney had his ducks more than in a row regarding the games that were played on me. Yet, from the get-go he made the statement that everything we were going to do, we were going to do on behalf of my children. We used that lens for everything. This meant avoiding games, but successfully defending against them (or picking up and cobbling together the pieces left behind as best I could); tidying up the case as quickly as possible to staunch the blood flow from the family assets; and including stipulations in the settlement that protected the children as much as possible, got us back on our feet, and laid clear the custody and visitation rules.

Eventually my ex and I got to where my attorney said was the end goal of a divorce: to get to the point in which the “rules” got laid in a drawer, and though we adhere to them in terms of general custody, we tend to forget whose Thanksgiving it is.

I did not have a handy list of questions, and I was plum lucky to land an attorney who could reverse my perilous situation, who “got it.” Now in hindsight, I would have been further protected and heartened by finding an attorney sooner rather than later, and knowing what questions to ask from the beginning.