by Lucien C. Gwin III
Being an attorney in a small town sentences one to dealing with “anything and everything” that walks through the door. That being said, I admit that one of the hardest areas of law is divorce work, especially when it involves children. Attorneys very often see parents using their children as pawns or leverage. On several occasions, I have seen Chancellor’s instruct (or admonish) parents that they “shall not” disparage the other parent in front of the children. Attorneys call it “poisoning” the children.
This brings me to a very disturbing case that just came down from the Mississippi Supreme Court. I am going to change the name of the case to Smith v Smith, since Mississippi is such a small place; and it would be my luck that someone would read this article and know the parties involved.
In Smith v Smith, the married parties sought and were granted a divorce. The Wife was given custody of the parties’ children, one of whom was a teenager and the other, a pre-teen. A few years after the divorce, the Husband filed for a modification of custody. At the time of the hearing, the older was sixteen; and the younger, thirteen. Upon the parties’ divorce, the father, of course, was ordered to pay child support and received the standard visitation with his children.
According to the text of the ruling, from the day the ink was dry on the divorce papers, up until the father filed a motion for modification of custody, the children would have nothing to do with him. The children refused visitation and made the father purposefully miserable when forced to go to visitation. The evidence showed that they “hated” him.
This case made it to the Mississippi Supreme Court where the Court found the following, specifically:
“Based on the children’s unwavering testimony, including responses to questions by the Chancellor and explicit exhibits, the Chancellor found that the children no longer loved their father and wished to terminate any relationship with him. Further, each child acknowledged sending hateful texts, which expressed a desire to either kill their father, or to see him dead…text messages and e-mails were filled with vitriolic invections expressing deep seeded anger, resentment and ill will not only toward their father, but also to his parents and sister.”
Now, one has to ask, how did these children come to feel so strongly about their father? The Court specifically found that the children’s actions were, in large part, brought on by their mother’s encouragement of negativity toward her ex-husband.
Thereafter, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the Chancellor in terminating the father’s child-support obligation and the requirement of his providing medical insurance as well as in terminating his payment of medical expenses not covered by insurance.
WOW! Let THAT sink in for a minute!
I do not know of any other case out there in which a thirteen-year-old child’s behavior determined if a said child was or was not going to continue to be supported by a parent.
I have mixed emotions about this decision. I have seen children and teenagers act out in some of the most aggressive ways toward family members. Sadly, I personally know of situations in which after a divorce some parents and children never speak to each other again. Children, especially those under sixteen, can be traumatized by divorce.
So, is cutting off support of a child whose brain cells are still not fully connected in the best interest of the child? You be the judge.
In the Smith case, the Chancellor left the door open for reconciliation between the father and his children; and, thus, he could potentially have to resume child support payments. I believe had I been the judge, I would have ordered mandatory counseling for the children and, most importantly, counseling for the mother and make the her pay for the costs since breakdown in the relationship was attributed to her After all in the Smith case, the Chancellor is really punishing the mother.
I also think that requiring the children to live with their father, (which is what he asked for), could have made a huge difference in their attitudes and behavior toward their father. The one thing I hear and believe is that the biggest reason for delinquency in American youth today in the absence of a father in the home, which should not be overlooked or ignored.
You can’t force one human to love another, but society cannot just toss a child (even troubled children) aside. It is my opinion that the Court should have done more in the Smith v Smith case. Parent-poisoning of children has disastrous results for children and the parent who is on the receiving end, and this must stop! Further, to disparage parents to their own children, or in front of their children, will cause nothing but suffering for the children.
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