In Whose Best Interest?

In the District, when parents fight over custody, the court places the child with the person who, the court believes, is in the “best interests of the child”.  While this phrase has a complicated and often deceptive meaning, put simply it is where the child will best thrive and grow up to be a productive member of society.   This phrase will bring about discussions and often verbal fights, about which parent the child has the best relationship with, who has spent the most time with the child, what situation is the child used to, and who has not hurt the child.

While this sounds like a good foundation to stand on, this discussion is happening at the expense of the child.  We are talking about two adults who could not agree on where the child should go or what the child should do, so they go to a room full of people and argue, all the while the child is stuck in the middle, being asked questions like, where do you want to go?  One would think that parents would speak praises about themselves and all they have done for this child, but no, instead they offer attempts to tear down the other parent, with allegations after allegations about how bad the other person is.  I cannot blame the parents because this is a high stakes emotional roller-coaster with the loss of a child as a consequence to failure.

So whose best interest is this proceeding in? Not the child. YES, it’s in the parents’ best interest and whatever motivation they have for coming before the court.  All be it that a lot of times there are really good reasons to go, but in the end, the child is losing a full time parent, to be replaced by a part time one.

Robert Maxwell
DC Family Lawyer

Posted in Child Abuse and Neglect, Child Custody | 1 Comment

Whose Child Is She?

In the District of Columbia anyone can rightfully ask the court system for the adoption of a child after that child has been in that person’s care for six months.   This, in the context of the child abuse and neglect system, allows foster parents (individuals kind enough to open their homes to a child during the pendency of the neglect process), to apply to adopt the child they are caring for after six months.

At this point either the biological parents consent to the adoption or they refuse to give consent.  If they consent they will permanently lose the right to care for and have control and custody of their child.  If they refuse they go to trial.  At this trial the court determines whether the biological parents will keep their rights to their child or the foster parents will be granted the adoption.

The biological parents are afforded every right and advantage given to them by District of Columbia law and the United States Constitution.  In the end, however, it is a parent who has in some way in the government’s eyes neglected that child verses an individual who has devoted his or her time to help this child and has taken care of this child.  The foster parents have been trained to be great parents while the biological parents have a proven record of being less than stellar parents.

So when the dust has settled and the wind has calmed, whose child is she?

Robert Maxwell
DC Family Lawyer

Posted in Child Abuse and Neglect | 6 Comments

The Battle Or The War: Just Because You Can Win Should You

As lawyers we can often find ways to win the day or an argument even when it should not be won simply because there is an open avenue to it. But the question becomes just because you can do a thing should you really do it. In the game of chess a good player will often sacrifice important pieces to gain a good foothold on eventual victory.

In the legal field I have seen lawyers act without knowing their real goals or have no goals at all but to win. Because of this they end up losing what they were really fighting for and sometimes they do not realize their loss. Sometimes this is because they do not think they can win so they take every battle they can get. Sometimes they see the small battles as the war. Sometimes they do not even know what war they are in.

I would recommend that before taking on any battle one should take the time to recognize what they really want out of it, because winning is never a goal, but a means to an end. What is your end? Let’s say you are a public interest lawyer and you want to remove the miscarriage of justice from the system.  Is the wiser course to remove a judge or group of judges who allow the miscarriage (the battle) only to eventually have those judges back (another battle), or to remove the gaps in the system that allows judges to facilitate the miscarriage (the war)?

Battles are short lived, but wars last a long time.

Robert Maxwell
DC Family Lawyer

Posted in Family Law Related News | Leave a comment

Child Support 101: How To Change Your Child Support Payments

In order to change or stop child support payments one must show the court that something new has happened that has a material and substantial effect on a parents child support obligations. This includes things like a change in the child’s living arrangements, a substantial change in one of the parent’s income or a change in the amount of time the child spends with each parent.

Lets take a change in the amount of time the child spends with each parent as an example. Let’s also assume that each parent makes roughly the same amount of money and the parent paying child support only spends weekends with his/her child. In this situation, even if the parent spent every weekend with his/her child that would only add up to 104 days. If you can add 73 days, getting that number up to 183 days (50% of the year), then your child support obligations should be reduced to $0.

The amount of days necessary to cause this to happen would be different if each parent made a different amount of money. So the key to ending child support payments is to spend the summer and a lot of weekends with your child.

Robert Maxwell
DC Family Lawyer

Posted in Child Support | 3 Comments

Domestic Violence And The Civil Protection Order: A Scalpel not a Sword

The Civil Protection Order in the District of Columbia is a stay away order with some extra bells and whistles. While the stay away part is its most popular tool, it includes extra remedies that maybe helpful like (1) counseling, medical, or psychiatric treatment, (2) removal of an individual from a residence they jointly own, (3) relinquishment of personal property, (4) custody/ visitation, and (5) any other relief necessary to protect the individual.

While having a stay away order is sometimes helpful, in some situations it may not be enough. Take for example a husband and wife who own a home together and have two children. Lets say one of them abuses the other; does a simple stay away order really help? But add to that, the removal of the abuser from the home they own, a quick, but temporary disposition of visitation, and some counseling. With this combination of remedies there can be a more effect solution to that family’s problem.

Like with any tool one can wield for a project, the improper use of it will cause the project to either fall apart or have unwanted results. But with proper use, one can reach the proper results.

Robert Maxwell
DC Family Lawyer

Posted in Domestic Violence | Leave a comment

Special Education: The Stigma Verses The Reality

When you ask someone what they think special education is, they might tell you that it is for children who cannot learn or have some sort of mental retardation. So no parent wants his or her child in special education. This image has created a sigma that has caused parents and children to turn down the FREE help that they are entitled.

Currently Special Education includes children who have some block to their ability to learn. The current list includes: (1) intellectual disabilities, (2) hearing impairments (including deafness), (3) speech or language impairments, (4) visual impairments (including blindness), (5) serious emotional disturbance, (6) orthopedic impairments, (7) autism, (8) traumatic brain injury, (9) other health impairments, or (10) specific learning disabilities.

What are generally most important are Serious Emotional Disturbance and Specific Learning Disabilities qualifications. These are most important because children that fall under this category are not getting the FREE help they need because of stigma. Children who are exposed to Domestic Violence or are involved in a Child Abuse & Neglect proceeding may qualify to get extra help to keep them on track until the emotional strain is relieved.

When children are involved or witness traumatic events, the effect on them are often unnoticed and it is their education that suffers. If your child is not doing well in school and has been exposed to Domestic Violence or is involved in a Child Abuse & Neglect proceeding see if you can get them qualified for special education because they can get tutoring, counseling and a variety of other helpful services FREE of charge.

Studies show that how much a child learns in their youth has a direct effect on how successful they will because in adulthood. So put another way, why not get the FREE help, that in the end will have a big effect on your child’s future. The only person that is hurt by turning down this FREE help is YOUR CHILD.

Robert Maxwell
DC Family Lawyer

Posted in Special Education | 5 Comments

Enough Is Enough: When Does Disciplining Ones Child Become Abuse

Parents who use physical force to discipline their children are often the subjects of a neglect and abuse investigation. So when does disciplining ones child become abuse? To set an outer limit, the District allows a parental discipline defense for parents accused of criminally assaulting their children if the force used to discipline the child was reasonable under the circumstances and for the purpose of disciplining the child.

But to the point of abuse, the District defines an abused child in the realm of discipline as a child inflicted with physical or mental injury. Physical injury would be the infliction of pain that will not pass away shortly after its inflection or marks that are not minor or temporary in nature. Mental injury would be the inflection of psychological or intellectual functioning that may be shown by a change in the child’s behavior, emotional response, or thought process, i.e. depression or suicidal tendencies to name a few.

So parental discipline has to be reasonable in manner and moderate in degree, but in any case discipline cannot include burning, biting, cutting, shacking, kicking, throwing, striking with a closed fist, threats that include a dangerous weapon, or anything that interferes with the child’s breathing.

So when does discipline become abuse? You have abused your child if (1) unreasonable force is used; (2) you cause pain or marks that endure; (3) you cause marks that are not minor or (4) your discipline causes depression or suicidal thoughts in your child.

Robert Maxwell
DC Family Lawyer

Sources: DC Code § 16-2301; Newby v. US, 797 a.2d 1233 (2002).

Posted in Child Abuse and Neglect | 3 Comments

One Contract Too Many: The District Cancels Suspect Contracts That Benefited Youth

“In December, the city’s procurement office awarded contracts to 10 groups to provide year-round job training to 670 youths, many of whom are not enrolled in school” wrote Washington post staff writer Mike DeBonis. Reportedly losing bidders appealed the procurement process, which started a review of the contracts that could not be defended because the paper work could not be found.  New contracts are expected to be awarded in June.

From a family perspective this is a great loss that will cause great problems in the future. Canceling these contracts after the work has begun, of course, will hurts the organizations and individuals who work for them but the youth and our society will bear the brunt of the hardship caused by this sudden cancellation.

Youth who are not being trained, who do not have a high school degree and do not have a job are very likely to become a burden on our societies’ resources until they become sustainable or even worse they might become criminal. These programs while focused on helping youth become healthy and productive contributors to our society also have the added effect of removing burdens on our society to include criminality.

As a family law lawyer these programs are a great relief because many of my client have children and they are heading towards criminality because of there situations and because they do not see a future. A youth without hopes and dream, without something worth fighting for, without a future is a terrible thought and this thought is created when you suddenly take away a program even for 6 month that gave these youth hope.

So ok, the contacts may have been procured in an unfair process, but canceling them without proof, is worse. These contracts are awarded through a process with multiple levels of review, but now that one employee and one set of paperwork is gone suddenly it looks as if one person stamped the application and awarded the contracts.

Stopping the contracts are not the answer. If the District wants to start the process again then fine, start the process again, but there must be some type of stop gap process put in place to allow the services to continue until the problem with the process is discovered. The six months the District waits to reaward these contracts will cost us dearly, on money for unemployment, money spent on criminal investigations, and most importantly the youth we lose forever.

Robert Maxwell
DC Family Lawyer

Posted in Family Law Related News | Leave a comment

The Most Important 72 Hours of Your Life

So your child is now being taken away. You are screaming and crying. You are not sure exactly why they are being taken away. They told you your child is not safe with you and that someone told them he/she was being neglected. What do you do now?

You are told there will be a hearing within 72 hours to determine your child’s placement and that there will be a family team meeting in 24 hours to make a plan for the safety of your child. Quite often these 72 hours are wasted because there is no to do list of what you need to get done to help you get your child back and why should you know.

The initial 72 hours are critical to getting your child back and to he/she’s emotional well-being. Here is a quick and dirty list of what to do now:

1.     Stay as calm as possible.

2.     Make sure you get the name and number of the social worker that took your children and call them at least once a day. Be persistent.

3.     Try to remember and write down as much detail about the situation that supposedly caused the social worker to take your child.

4.     Clean your home from top to bottom and take pictures.

5.     Talk to your neighbors. Find out who will come to court and say you are a great parent. Make sure they have examples.

6.     Talk to family and friends. Find a family member that is more than happy to take care of your child. Do not forget to find a backup.

7.     Get family and friends to call the social worker.

8.     Give the social worker the information of the family members that you have chosen to care for your child.

9.     Clean the family member’s home from top to bottom and take pictures.

10.  Find neighbors willing to come to court and state that this family member is a great neighbor. Make sure one of your witnesses can talk about some type of interaction they have seen between the child and the family member.

11.  Go to the courthouse and pull criminal records on yourself and the family member.

Always remember to stay calm when interacting with the government and do not let them anger you to the point were you lash out verbally or physically. This will be hard, but this is very important and while you might feel better at the moment it will cost you in the future. Quite often the reasons they take children are not the reasons they keep children. Once they get into your life they are in search of other problems. Cooperate but never give up more information then is necessary to answer their questions and when in doubt just do not answer, but never lie. This list will help you prepare for the hearing but is no guarantee, in the end only your perseverance and calm thinking will get them back.

Robert Maxwell
DC Family Lawyer

Posted in Child Abuse and Neglect | 4 Comments