My husband’s parents divorced when he was in middle school. When I asked how they shared custody of him and his younger sister, he said, “We got to choose who we wanted to live with.” I marveled at that statement.
I wasn’t allowed to make any decisions. I wasn’t asked where I wanted to vacation or what movie I wanted to see. I wasn’t allowed to give the silent treatment or to sulk after being punished. I wasn’t allowed to be angry, loud, energetic, silly or moody. I had no right to anything.
That’s why, when I learned that a Michigan judge sentenced three kids to juvenile detention because they refused to have lunch with their father, I was deeply disappointed in the justice system. During a custody hearing last month, a 9-year-old girl and her 10- and 15-year-old brothers were held in contempt of court by Oakland County Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca for refusing to visit with their father Omer Tsimhoni. They’ve been locked up since June 24.
“When you are ready to have lunch with your dad, dinner with your dad, to be normal human beings, I will review this when your dad tells me you’re ready,” Gorcyca said in the hearing. “Otherwise you are living in Children’s Village until you graduate from high school. That’s the order of the court.”
According to the Huffington Post, the kids tried to explain to Gorcyca why they didn’t want to spend time with Tsimhoni. The oldest son said, “He’s violent and he — I saw him hit my mom and I’m not gonna talk to him.”
Whether you believe their father is violent or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that kids don’t stop talking to their parents for no reason. Something is driving their averse feelings. Even if the cause isn’t criminal, that problem isn’t going to be fixed by a court order. It’s an issue best resolved in family therapy.
Legal experts reportedly told The Guardian that the judge may have overstepped her bounds.
The judge called the children “brainwashed.” According to the court transcript she told the teen, “You’re supposed to have a high IQ, which I’m doubting right now because of the way you act. You’re very defiant. You have no manners.”
“You want to have your birthdays in Children’s Village? Do you like going to the bathroom in front of people?” the judge asked the girl.
I’m not sure how the kids got dragged into such a situation, but I can’t imagine speaking to them this way is helpful.
Going to jail during your parents’ divorce is like an emotional nightmare becoming a physical one. And of course juvenile detention isn’t well known for helping kids mend and recover broken relationships. Instead, it’s a criminal holding pattern, devoid of the social, educational and familial necessities these kids have a right to, that will release them back into the world with new scars. At which point they’ll probably have a lot to talk to a therapist about. It’s disheartening to see what could have happened to me if my parents had divorced when I was a kid, if I had ended up in Judge Gorcyca’s courtroom.
Their father may request an earlier hearing if “the children are having a healthy relationship and following the order.”
Family issues are complicated and an iron fist, authoritarian approach doesn’t help. Abuse flies under the radar. Trauma happens right under your nose. It could be right next door.
Divorce can be traumatic for kids. There’s no need to add trauma to trauma. When my husband talks about his parents’ divorce, I can still see that young boy in there who felt defeated and lost because he wanted so badly to keep his family together. He just wanted everyone to be happy.
The fact that these three kids haven’t given in and spoken to Dad since June 24 speaks volumes. They feel very strongly about avoiding contact with their father. That’s all anyone, including Judge Gorcyca, should have to know.
**Update: The judge agreed today, July 10, to release the children from juvenile detention to attend summer camp, according to the Detroit Free Press.