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Divorce and custody issues are never easy, and things can get even harder if kids refuse to obey a custody order. So what can you do if children refuse to see one of their parents, as ordered by the court?
You can have a judge send them to juvenile detention, apparently. That's the answer a Michigan family court judge came up with, as she sent three siblings to juvie for refusing to see their father.
Helter Skelter Order?
Oakland County Family Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca had ordered three siblings, aged nine to fourteen, to see their father as part of a visitation agreement. The children refused, citing, among other things, that their father hit their mother. According to Judge Gorcyca, there was no evidence of violence. In fact, she believed the mother had brainwashed the children against the father.
But instead of punishing the children's mother, she chose to punish the children themselves, and that's where the train left the tracks, so to speak. Some choice excerpts from Judge Gorcyca's interaction with the 14-year-old boy:
Judge Gorcyca sent all three to Children's Village. There, they would be separated from each other and would be required to have individual visits with their father.
The judge subsequently ordered the three children to be released, but not before they had already spent two weeks in the county juvenile detention center. This release was only granted after the father submitted a motion to have the children sent to a summer camp instead.
Punishment for Civil Contempt
Behavior that disobeys or disregards a court order is considered contempt of court. Contempt can cover anything from violating a restraining order to disrespecting a judge or court official. Some have criticized the broad authority contempt of court allows to judges, and this may be its first application as to non-party children during a custody battle.
While many have criticized the judge for her language during the hearing, some see the civil contempt charge as her only and final option. Even Hertz Schram, the firm representing the children's mother, released a statement emphasizing the judge's legitimate efforts to correctly apply the law to the difficult and contentious case.
Nonetheless, it's difficult to overlook the issue of unfairness to the children. Even if the children didn't have a legitimate reason for not seeing their father, should their behavior really warrant a sentence to a juvenile center? As the critics point out, the punishment seems unnecessarily harsh, and misdirected at the children, rather than the mother, the actual party in the case.
The legal question of whether a contempt of court order can be directed people (let alone minors) who are not parties to the case, has not yet been answered.