The collision of mental health, orders of protection and family law

This week was another tragic story of a father throwing his three-year old son from a 52 story high rise apartment and then jumping off himself. He was in the middle of a “custody battle” with his estranged wife and evidently; this was his trump card- his “sick way” of winning according to his wife. Read the story here: Click here.

It’s hard to know whether an order of protection could have protected this adorable red-head toddler. We do know that the mother was originally asking for supervised visitation, but relented and agreed to unsupervised visits between the child and his father. It’s also hard to know if a Judge would have ordered supervised visits. There was no history of violence within the family and to my knowledge the Father had never abused the son. With more and more tragic stories of parents and lovers killing their loved ones, what can a parent facing a divorce do? What can a divorce attorney like me do? I think we must err on the side of caution and take very seriously our responsibility not to escalate an emotional situation.

A client of mine faced a similar situation just earlier this week. Her ex husband had been acting strangely for the last year or so and she filed for a modification limiting his time with the children. During a recent visit he told his teenage daughter he would commit suicide if she testified against him in an upcoming modification. He yelled at her and swore at her. My client had to decide whether to allow the two other children to continue visiting or cut off all contact and obtain an Order of Protection for herself and her children. Her ex husband had a history of depression but had never abused the children. We ultimately decided we could not risk her children’s lives. She obtained the order of protection and we will request a mental health evaluation prior to visits resuming. Was this the right decision? Who knows…but given this Mother’s fears and the escalation of volatile behavior, we had to err on the side of caution.

As a divorce attorney, my clients and I make choices together. I have a role in determining how acrimonious the divorce process will be. My role as an attorney demands that I be a staunch advocate for my client’s position. In my humble opinion, this means to protect my client’s rights while thinking through the consequences of our decisions. For instance, if my client wants “sole custody” and wants to limit parenting time between the children and the other parent with very little reason to do so, I can either make the situation worse or better. My advice to this client would be to explain that Arizona law strongly favors joint custody and ample time with two loving parents. I can take the time to determine what my clients actual concerns are and then figure out how to move forward, or I can ask for sole custody and very little parenting time. Would I then be throwing gasoline on a smoldering fire? Perhaps.

My pledge, is to do my very best to think through the long-term consequences of the decisions we make during a divorce. My pledge is to remember that families are still families even after restructuring. Like a doctor, I will do my very best to do no harm and to act with the long term best interests of families, while protecting my clients rights.

For a free family law consultation, give the office a call at 480-649-2905