Most people are familiar with parents being punished for refusing to abide by the custody and visitation terms of a final divorce decree. Recently, a Michigan judge punished the children of divorced parents for refusing to see their father. Kids Jailed for Refusing Lunch With Dad Being Freed as Judge Caves, by Steven Nelson, usnews.com, July 10, 2015. In that case, the three children (ages 14, 10 and 9) refused Judge Lisa Gorcyca’s order that they spend time with their estranged father. The children did not want to see their father because he had allegedly abused their mother. Judge Gorcyca “told the siblings they would be placed in ‘cells’ and forced to use toilets without privacy until they turn 18” for refusing to comply with her.
Despite several allegations of abuse, Judge Gorcyca told the children that their father “had never been convicted of anything” and that he was “a great man.” In fact, Judge Gorcyca had previously denied the mother’s request for a protective order from the father, alleging that he had hit her, assaulted her, and threatened to kill their children. It is unclear why this protective order was denied. In spite of these abuse allegations, however, the mother apparently still encouraged the children to comply with the order, but they refused. After two weeks and a media firestorm, Judge Gorcyca backed down and released the children, though she claimed she had their best interests at hear throughout the case.
A case like this seems almost unbelievable. It is hard to imagine that it is in the best interests of children to spend time with a parent of whom they are afraid. But to go one step further and put children in jail for refusing to see a parent of whom they are afraid is unconscionable. There has to be a middle ground. If a Judge does not believe the allegations of abuse and feels strongly that the children should see that parent, the Judge should put some safeguards in place to make that child feel more comfortable. Perhaps visitation in a public place or with another adult with whom the children feel comfortable. Or even just give the children some time to think about it and revisit the situation in a month. Punishing the children will not help the situation and will likely only make the children more resentful if and when they do spend time with the parent at issue.