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Old 09-05-2008, 02:19 PM   #1 (permalink)
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A unique situation--Switching schools and Join Leagal Custody

Dear Leagal Match Advice Forum community,

I have a very unique situation that I am having a hard time finding cases that are similar in any state.

My ex and I were never married. In 1998 I received joint legal custody of my two children. Until 2001 the mother did not allow me my parenting time as allowed by our state. Basically she turned me away at the door when I wanted my visitation weekends.

When the children started school in 2002 they attended public school in the area where they were living. They moved 4 times over 4 years making each year a different school until three years ago when the mother purchased a house. They have attended local public school for 6 years. There is the background.

Two weeks ago I contacted my childís new middle school to send them a copy of the joint custody agreement so I could be put as an emergency contact on the school's information, be mailed copies of report cards and be put in contact with my child's teachers. One week ago the school counselor contacted me and told me my child had not attended the first 5 days of school. They had tried contacting her mother and the phone was disconnected. I called my younger child's school and he was never registered for school at all!

I attempted to call the mother and she did not pick up the phone. I left voice mail asking her to call me. Leaving no detail or information about what I knew. I emailed her and told her she could email me if she didn't want to speak on the phone. That is where she responded and told me she registered the children into a Public Charter school where 50% of the children's education would be done via the internet and 25% would be done with her and 25% (Two days a week) she would drive the children to a larger city 77 miles away for classes with a real teacher.

This "school" is sponsored by the state and is tuition free. They provide her with free internet access, a free computer, and free educational materials. They call it a "Public Charter Virtual School". All of the "school activities" are in that city 77 miles from where they live.

Joint Legal Custody is defined by our state as an equal say in matters of education. I believe that by doing this she is in contempt of court.

I told her previously I did not agree with her removing the children from traditional school to home school. According to the company that provides the curriculum for the "school" it is a "home based public school program". Sounds like homeschooling to me.

There is a history of her not communicating basic problems and medical information with me. My child taken to the ER and I wasn't informed until I saw her splint 10 days later! I am forced to beg and plead with teachers and administrators to just obtain copies of report cards. In the past when I have asked for information from the mother she will give me excuses or be vague about that information.

I need case precedent about similar cases regarding contempt and schooling. Can someone please give me some advice or point me in the right direction? I am currently in the process of obtaining an atorney.

Thank you so much for your time.
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Old 09-05-2008, 04:15 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Perhaps it would be beneficial for you to do some research about "home schooling" and what it is about.

I am a state licensed teacher and before heading into law, I obtained an undergraduate degree in education. I have home schooled all of my children and have had them tested yearly, independently ( in the public schools, in fact) and they have exceeded their peers.

Everyone is free to do as they wish regarding schooling---My decision to homeschool is PERSONAL, not political. I don't believe it is a good choice for everyone. I have friends who "unschool", using no structured curriculum, no set methods, no set materials, etc. I do not believe these children score as well in testing as regularly schooled children do.

What you are describing, a "charter school", IS legal and it DOES meet the state requirements for education. Now, there are schools that are NOT accredited--of those, be wary. But, you are going to have a hard time making a case for contempt when she is in compliance with the law of the state---the state sanctions these "classes" and they have been proven to be as effective, if not more so than other schooling methods.

That leaves your issue with feeling as though you are being 'left out' of decisions. That very well may be. But joint decision making is a subjective idea---even married still living together couples don't split decisions literally fifty fifty. My husband, when he was living, made many decisions---and never consulted me. I, in turn, made hundreds of decisions about the bills, the house, the kids, etc. and never asked for his input. The practicality of exact fifty fifty decision making is very subjective. If you feel she is really disregarding your input, seek other remedy, such as counseling, mediation, or even go back to court. But, if she has enrolled the children where SHE lives ( not where YOU live) in a state approved school, then she is not in contempt, since the state, in fact, sanctions the same. If you have a problem with charter schools, then you are, obviously, free to petition the court for a hearing, but be advised the court doesn't see them with the same contempt as you apparently do.

Do some research. Look up the particular charter schools she is sending the children to. Ask for information about them--you will be surprised at how eager many students are to get into these schools---and I suspect the court would look favorably on a parent who not only chooses the same for their children, but are also willing to participate more fully in their education than just dropping them off at the door every day.

A parent feeling "left out" of decision making is not uncommon. But, to make it into a legal matter is something entirely different. From a legal standpoint, you are going to have difficulty finding her in contempt for enrolling the children in a state approved school.

Also, one other thing I wanted to mention about "equal say". Parents do not always agree on a course of action, but obviously, one person "wins" and "gets their way". Unfortunately, since the mother is viewed as the primary care giver and primary custodian ( even if the papers say joint legal custody ) what she 'wants' usually prevails.

Also of import is the fact that you were not married. As archaic as it may sound, it does matter. By law, a birth or biological father that is not married to the mother does not customarily have the same 'say' in their life as does the mother.

I believe your only legal remedy is to have your objections noted, and then to wait a semester and see how the children do. If they do not do well and are not progressing in school, you then have legal grounds to challenge this particular format and explain to the court how you feel it isn't working for your children.

The choice your ex has made may not be a wise choice for everyone. But, if she is willing to put the time and effort into making it work, give it a chance. You do not have the right to say she cannot attempt to make this work---hundreds of parents do daily. If that is what she thinks is best, unfortunately, your opinion does not carry the weight that hers does, at this point.

Make a concerted effort to find out about these schools. What you will read about will surprise you. Watch it in action---ask for copies of test results. If it didn't work, and work well, the state wouldn't be putting millions into making it a possibility. Have an opened mind. Let her try it--and if it doesn't work for them, THEN make your case against it.

Until that time, I cannot see what legal grounds you have. Bottom line: the state approves. You cannot hold her in contempt for putting them in a state approved school--whether it would have been your choice or not. Lets say she DID tell you and you said NO. Then what? You are saying it should have been your way? Then YOU would have been in contempt for doing something SHE disapproves of ( traditional school) See the conundrum? Someone has to make the decisions--and since they are with her, she gets to "say". Is it "fair"? Probably not. But that's how the law works.
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Old 09-05-2008, 09:27 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Unhappy Thank you

Dear Grace,

Thank you for your input. Unfortunately I was afraid of what advice I would get and I was correct. Thank you again for your honest free shared advice I appreciate more than you can know.

My suspicions to what the court think I fear are correct. Because she left me at the alter I am a considered a second class father. Because she decides to put them in a state supported school it doesn't matter that she removed them without informing me. It also doesnít matter that her desire is to begin to micromanage what she can barely macro manage when they were at regular school. The court believes that she always has the children's best interest at heart. She took the initiative to take them to this school. Surely she will also pay for the youngest to attend speech therapy, and the oldest to the city choir program. With all her desire to raise her children she, arrange private lessons so Evan can learn to play the instrument he wanted to start playing in public, and find a local soccer program for the oldest to participate, and get them involved in other community organized programs.

...sigh. I know her. They will bet sat in a chair and screamed at to do the work on the computer screen 3 days a week and when they attend the classroom 77 miles from her home she will complain the whole way there about the gas money she had to spend to get them there. They will not be able to attend school functions because it is too far from them to travel. There are been chances for her to enroll the children in community programs and she has yet to do any of them. That is consistent with her track record and I know her very well.

This program is in its first year of inception. I donít like the idea that my children are the Stateís guinea pigs for this program.

I realize that what I know and believe doesnít matter. Even when the Law says it should. My children will grow up with out the benefits of things I had because the court says my role and responsibilities as a father are minimal at most and nothing more than a paycheck for their mother at worst.

It seems like the court talks out of one side of its mouth saying how fathers should have a greater role in their children's lives. They grant joint legal custody that gives them equal participation in the children's education, medical and religious training. Then out of the other side of their mouth say that fathers should shut up, allow the mother to make all the decisions, be grateful for the "parenting time" the state gives them, and pay their child support like good little men.

I have never had a problem paying child support except when I see their mother purchasing a new laptop when the kids need school clothes, or buying a tempurpedic mattress when she tells the children she canít afford to buy the milk. There again is another issue where the courts say I should just shut up. It is motherís money to spend how she wishes.

It is really frustrating. I also realize that these are the consequences for having *** as a teenager and having babies when you are still a baby yourself. I just never thought that the consequences would be the detriment to the only blessing in this situation, my beautiful children. How do I protect them when I am not allowed to be their protector?

Grace I realize that you will not have any answers to my frustrations. I am just very grateful that this forum allows me to voice my opinion. Thank you for your post. It brought up some serious questions as how to proceed with my lawyer. If there is anyone else who would like to lend their opinion to this I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you again.
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Old 09-05-2008, 10:47 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Leon, This is from the other side of the coin.

Grace homeschooled her children... or perhaps it was her husband. They were well educated and active... but if you read much of these columns you will see that it is much as you perceive your kid's mother to be --- one response, fine, two responses, testy, three responses and watch out for ugly barbs, colored print and nasty personal opinions.

That is exactly what she gave you because she feels strongly about it... personal opinion... slanted to the way she did her own children.

The fact is that I homeschooled my son too, so I know how much time it takes and how difficult it is to motivate a kid who lacks motivation in regular school (until he got back in and was so VERY relieved not to have to work so hard). The fact is that the kid is going to teach himself in this kind of charter school. For some kids that is just fine.

Some of the accredited programs use programmed instruction booklets, others use computers. Computers are still not as good as having an instructor and other kids to learn with and from... but the kids WILL learn if they don't want to be left behind. There is less distraction and actually MORE time to play.

My sister IS a teacher of smaller children. (I only taught adult IBMers except for my son. They were notoriously smart and motivated with masters degrees too.) The problem with computers is that they can't diagnose problems in learning. They can only document it. It has been ten years since I sold this variety to K-12, but I've NOT seen a big leap in anything but GAMES. So if your children HAVE any learning disabilities or vision problems or hearing problems, it will be up to their mother to discern that it is happening. I doubt she even knows what to look for. Then the further question is whether she knows what level her child needs to be reading from. Are they "Getting" the material? Boys don't mature into study skills as fast as girls in general, so it will be harder if you have boys.

The fact that you recognize already that she is not getting them to community exercise opportunities has set a bar for getting that fixed by including that as what you require to the judge if she proceeds with home schooling. (Be as conciliatory as you can given the circumstances and her level of education.) All children need organized athletic involvement just to get to know their abilities and to develop normally. Can YOU get the trash in the can from ten feet? I can. Will they develop the necessary hand/eye coordination if she doesn't see to it that they get into a sports program?

You state that she doesn't have enough money for milk... I hope that is facetious, but I'm wondering right now if she works. Is she going to teach the kiddos in the evenings? Who will be with these underage children during the day if she works or shops or gets her hair done? Perhaps she has not fully thought out what it is like to have the children on her hands all day every day. If she can't get them involved in programs, it is undoubtedly because she doesn't take the time to do it. Thus you might ask if she will take the time to be sure they learn. This is a question for NOW... not after six months when your kids could be half a year behind and need constant tutors for at least a year to catch up. Will they indeed have any interaction with her at all? Was she a good student? Did she get a college degree? These are all questions that might sway a judge on her decision to take the kids out of a "regular" school. Can I encourage you to find a job nearby??

I would also suggest that you should be more adamant that you GET your visitation. She should not be able to move without informing you where your children will be and when and how you can get your time in. It has been ordered by the court already. Children need to know their fathers... not just the guy who visits sometimes. From what you've said about being left at the alter I see teenage babies having babies, and I suspect she has NOT followed through on her own education. If that is the case I doubt she would actually be a good judge of the program. If you aren't there regularly, you won't be either. Time to make the decision to pursue a stronger connection with your children. They deserve it.

But one more thing. You need to develop a conversation with this woman rather than an adversarial relationship. You need to find out WHY she chose to do home schooling. Today's costs for even grade school children are enormous during the school year. Meals, workbooks, books, activities, school activity fees, locker fees, etc. It all adds up to lots of money... In Naperville it was close to $150 per semester 15 years ago. Perhaps it is money that is driving her to home school?

OBTW... some states have the requirement that one parent in a homeschool situation must have the necessary education to teach though I doubt they legislate the issue of TEMPERMENT for teaching. Check out your child's school district requirements of the HOME portion of this charter school. If it only requires a GED, I wonder how a judge could sanction letting her take them out of a regular school environment if she doesn't have the educational requirements.

Last edited by boykinmama; 09-05-2008 at 11:31 PM.
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Old 09-06-2008, 04:40 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Actually my posting was NOT my personal opinion about home schooling. My posting said to investigate and learn about charter schools ----a WELL DOCUMENTED ( not opinion ) format that works well for thousands of students across the nation. At no time did I set forth my personal opinion regarding homeschooling, nor did I suggest it was a viable option for everyone.

I clearly stated it is NOT for everyone and I do NOT believe it should be something everyone considers. I was asking him to get hard concrete statistics ABOUT CHARTER schools and be more informed about this venue. THAT is not OPINION--it is FACT. Statistics, data, evaluation, testing. PROOF.

My posting did not contain "testy colored barbs". My comments were not the least bit adversarial. You say you homeschool--do you see me making comments like, "Boykin says SHE homeschooled---or perhaps it was her husband". I did not. I didn't question the validity of your comments about your personal life in the least, nor did I reference your qualifications for home schooling. I clearly stated I homeschooled---yet you cannot pass up the opportunity to litter your posting with insinuations about my personal life, not to mention a dead man. If you don't like me or my "tone", disregard my postings. Somehow you think disgreeing with my 'tone' grants you license to engage in personal attacks. No one else here makes that leap. Just you. I have made over 1100 postings in this forum and I have yet to reference your family, your children, your job, your appearance, your personal life, your education, etc. Not a single time. Yet you feel entitled to do all of the above. Certainly reflects poorly on you, wouldn't you say?

I wanted to point out that the home schooling laws do not apply in this instance because the state does not view charter schools as home schooling. As a member of the Home School Legal Defense Association for many many years, I do keep myself informed of the ever changing cannon of laws regarding the same. And, at this particular juncture, I know of no states that view the format the poster describes as 'home schooling' where the parent has to meet any criteria.

Also, the fact that it is a 'new' school doesn't mean that the method and the idea of charter schools isn't well documented and proven. That has nothing to do with my opinion. That is fact.

I do agree with the poster wholeheartedly in that he sees the correlation between being a young unmarried parent and the frustration it causes later when the father wants to participate in his childrens lives and cannot. I agree it is a tragedy of epic porportions.

Refrain from making parallels between me and a woman who the poster alleges is neglectful and acting in a manner harmful to her children. It has already been established that your opinions regarding my personal life are not relevant to this forum.
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Old 09-06-2008, 06:43 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Grace, I did not describe your personal life. I pointed out that his estimate of her capacity for frustration was similar to your own IN THIS COLUMN. Perhaps I should have added that it was also similar to my own when it comes to my son's future hanging in the balance.

My son was a lazy student with a fairly high IQ. He was bored in school and took HIMSELF out. Remember I noted that he was relieved to go back in because he didn't like the extreme workload. This guy's children might not be able to pick up and run fast after lazing along for half a semester like my son did.

The one point that must be made about home school is that the normal volume of work in a regular school is about 1/3 the volume they MUST complete in home school. (This fact is why I think the computer version has not progressed to "another mental level". It depends on a wide and deep set of learning instruction, reading, and questions- meaning they will drill the kid til he is turning blue... but they may NOT have any exceptional learning techniques... like movies or hands on materials, leaving the child unable to spend time thinking about the material as he experiences it. The volume is suppose to make it innate/learned. Just think about having to share the computer with two other kids and still get through that repetitious workload.) And they have to get a high percentage correct before they can proceed. For a child without an instructor and perhaps with less aptitude to school themselves (self starter?), this can increase the child's frustration enormously. But while you might not be able to pick out the quality level of the teaching materials, a teacher COULD. I'd suggest he actually try the material for the oldest child himself and see if HE would feel comfortable trying to instruct that child on things he might have missed and can't move forward without... Pointless to ask this of someone who has not had college level reinforcement of educational tasks. Just as pointless as it would be to have a Mom overseeing a child's education without going through the course herself to understand what the child's needs will be and to be able to answer questions. Do you suppose the two days 70 miles away will get all those questions answered in a timely fashion? Has this Mom ever driven three children 70 miles and back twice a week? It can be grueling. What does she do when ONE is sick? These children will lose a whole week's worth of travel time in two days couped up in a car at today's gas prices.

So while it might seem less expensive-if the local district pays for the Charter materials or they use her laptop, less imposition on her to get up and get all three out to school without a dad to help, and perhaps less intrusive on her personal life, for any child with special needs it can be a very difficult time.

What SHE doesn't realize yet is that unless she has teacher's credentials or a very strong education well into college, she could damage her children just when they need the best prep work... for high school. He said they had been in school up to six years... meaning the oldest is about 12-13. THIS is when the schools REALLY begin to load up the children with higher level learning techniques. They are going to miss it and won't be ready to do much more than rote read and answer questions. In schools, they have to think, discuss, and verbalize... not much of that at home. Perhaps Mom is counting on this to give her a review so she can continue her own education... oddly, it does accomplish that if she is working with the children.

How do you teach a child to WRITE cogent organized themes? Can you do it on a computer? Sure, I find it easier to compose on a computer, but will they? Most screens won't let you display a full page, much less show the editing required on a theme... or the possibilities of a better arrangement of the information.

Sure, if you are teaching the basics it might work out. But watch out for the dearth of higher level learning techniques.

Last edited by boykinmama; 09-09-2008 at 02:48 AM.
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Old 09-09-2008, 12:35 AM   #7 (permalink)
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I greatly appreciate both of your opinions.

The mother did graduate from high school by getting her GED mid semester her senior year. She did go to college and was a semester and student teaching session away from obtaining a degree to be a science teacher. She quit two years ago when the student housing association found out that she was keeping her 4 cats in her little duplex where no pets where allowed and she had it decided for her and her husband that they needed to move. She did not finish and has no plans to finish.

She is very intelligent but lacks in common sense. She may know pie to the 15th decibel and the atomic weight of thallium, but she allows the animals to defecate in their bathtub and didnít notice hat my youngest had did not change is socks for two weeks and stunk to high heaven.

The program in which the children are enrolled is overseen by a teacher. This teacher will sporadically monitor online work through an online connection. She will teacher in a one room school house style class twice a week. The rest of the time the parent is responsible for teaching the class materials provided by the program. 70% of that work is done on the computer.

My sister home schoolís her son and has his entire 3 years of school. She is highly organized and very neat and clean. She is a human and there are days when she has to catch up on laundry or doesnít sweep for a few weeks. There are places when you can write notes in the dust. But her house smells clean in every room without incense or candles. When her dog has an accident she pulls out the spot cleaner and cleans it up.

I cannot say the same for my childrenís mother. There were months when she would have the children wait for me outside so I wouldnít come to the door and smell the stink. I smelled it on the children, on their clothing, in their hair when I hugged them. Social Services have been called multiple times but she was smart and told them they couldnít go in without a warrant. By the time they got the warrant she had had the kids cleaning all weekend to clean up the accumulative mess. There were times when mother or I called social services just to make the living conditions better for the children. The never listen to us to get the warrant first. So she turns them away but it makes the house cleaner for a time. The only problem is there is no evidence only hearsay.

I see my children every chance I can. I make sure I get every night as laid out in the state's visitation guidelines. I would see them more if she would let me but she sticks to the guidelines like glue and will not allow me even one extra weekend or even hour past what the guidelines state. She has moved without telling me in the past and I have had to call her mother or sister and get her whereabouts. Two locations ago she did tell me they were moving until the day I was to pick up the children for visitation. I had no idea they have moved and that the children would be attending their third school in three years. Ahh, but I donít have the exact date documented. I donít have an email with a date. It is my word against hers.

When it comes the comment about milk it is truer than I wish. The mother has a very hippy way of looking at things. No meat, no leather, toufu, no milk, vegetables, or grains unless there are organic. That kind of shopping makes her grocery budget seem much smaller. That food is for her and her little son (their half brother). The kids do get some of it but when the pantry is bare they get cheap potpies and microwave bean burritos. Her husband purchased a Wii, and PS3 gaming systems but they wonít allow the kids drink the organic milk.

The way my state asses child support I send the state just over $1,090 every 4 weeks. That is almost 1/3 of my net paycheck. I have to pay that much because she chooses not to work and stay home with the children. They estimate her gross income at minimum wage because she didnít finish her degree. I only have an associates degree which is half the amount of secondary education she has but I am penalized because I choose to work hard and she chooses to read novels all day and give online tarot readings.

Ever since the first custody order I have attempted to have a civil relationship with her. It is her opinion that I hate her and no matter what I say, she closes herself off to me and tries to do the same thing with the children. She tries to close me off from them and their lives. She is embittered to me because I just wonít leave them alone to live their lives. I have a wife I should have children and forget hers (her words from a letter).

Many of my fears have been addressed and reiterated in the previous post. Their mother complained about the 100 miles drive to pick up the children every other weekend from my home when the judge enforced the order for us to share transportation for visitations. I canít imagine the additional 280 miles every week and how she may decide that since she doesnít have the money this week they just canít go. The mother couldnít take time out of her novels to help my youngest with his DAILY parent help required math homework from public school. I donít see her making a change of heart so quickly. I fear my children will suffer in education, and in their future vocations due to her desire to make me see things her way.

Thank you both for your contrasting opinions. I am sorry if I caused your disagreements. This issue is less about home school and more about communication or lack of form my ex. If there are any other opinions about this situation, or any case law that may be helpful I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you again.
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Old 09-09-2008, 04:43 AM   #8 (permalink)
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I understand your concerns about the cleanliness, etc. And you very well may be right. Perhaps the 'newness' of this plan will wear off quickly and she will return them to school.

It is important, though, to draw a distinction between what is illegal and harmful and what is just personally offensive to you. Let me give you an example--I am NOT relating this to your personal life---this is from MY life.

My mother, when I was growing up, had ALL the time in the world to cook clean, clean and clean. However, she never had time to sit and read to us, or play with us. But to this day, you could eat off the floor. Now, contrast that to MY house. Some days I don't even GET to the dishes until AFTER the kids go to bed. (with seven of them, it doesn't take long). And you can bet there are toys, papers, and even CANDYLAND game pieces on the floor at any given time. That doesn't bother me---what does bother me is DIRT. FILTH. Thats where I draw the line. The bathrooms are clean, the floors are clean ( cluttered at times, but no DIRTY)--and some days ( like yesterday when we made paper mache) it looked like a freakin tornado came through with a TON of small torn up pieces of news paper everywhere, not to mention paper mache PASTE making it STICK every darn place.

My point is--this is ALL unacceptable to my mother. IN fact, she won't even come TO my house. If we go to HER house, we must all be showered, combed, curled, coiffed, etc. And we do it out of respect FOR her.

In everything you said, there are legitimate concerns. A child being starved or going to bed hungry IS a legitimate concern. Not being allowed organic milk isn't abuse. I'm sure you understand my point. For your own clarity, you must sort out the legally actionable things ( child abuse, starvation, hunger, neglect) from things you are I find absurd ( like buying video games instead of vacuum cleaner bags to clean the house!)

Doing so will help you accurately assess what you can really Do something about (legally) and what you cannot.Having a clear understanding of the difference is really critical if this matter has to go to court. Your ability to present JUST those factual things ( as opposed to matters of opinion ) will demonstrate to the judge you 1. know the difference and 2. are being fair and equitable.

Good luck.
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