Making lasting memories for children … bad memories

by Judge Steve Halsey – Wright County District Court

One of the life-saving technologies of the past 40 years is the 9-1-1 emergency communications system.  Countless lives have been saved and injuries minimized because police, fire and EMT personnel are quickly dispatched to the scene of a medical emergency, fire, accident, or crime.

Unfortunately, some parents and family members resort to calling 9-1-1 and getting the police involved in their civil or family law disputes instead of “cooling off” and contacting an attorney for advice the next day.  I am not referring to domestic assault or physical assault cases where the intervention of law enforcement is necessary to protect the victim from harm, investigate the crime and prevent the perpetrator from avoiding justice or inflicting greater harm.  I am talking about the parents who meet at the visitation exchange site, often a fast food restaurant or other public place, where the children exit one parent’s vehicle and enter the other’s car at the beginning or end of parenting time.  It is common that if one or the other is 10 or 15 minutes late to the visitation exchange site, the “wronged” party calls 9-1-1 and gets law enforcement involved.  These are the same officers that should be out keeping the streets safe and answering calls for real emergencies.

Whenever I have the opportunity and feel the need because of the allegations of a court pleading, I try to discourage parents from calling the police to get them involved in a family law dispute.  But why?  Isn’t upholding a court order for parenting time important?  Of course it is.  Shouldn’t the rights of a parent to see their child be enforced?  Absolutely.  But at what cost?  It is at least conceivable that a young child will be very upset if not traumatized by seeing a uniformed officer exit a squad car with light bar flashing to intervene in the dispute of two parents who may be shouting threats and obscenities at one another.  The parent who does this may have created a memorable event in the child’s mind, but not a good memory.

Family law disputes often become extremely emotional, so much so that adults will bring their teenage children to court, expecting them to talk to the judge.  I have a policy of only interviewing old teens and only in very few cases where I can conclude it is necessary and will not adversely affect the teen.  I am frankly amazed when lawyers ask me to interview a child.  Judges are not trained psychologists or social workers, nor are judges trained interviewers. State law requires that during the interview the lawyers be present (not the parents) as well as a court reporter.  I can’t imagine that this would make a good memory for any child, speaking to a stranger in the courthouse about their most intimate feelings.  A fellow judge told me how her law clerk (a lawyer) at age 5 was interviewed by a judge when the parents divorced.  The result was that this person did not see one parent for about 20 years.  It sounds like a very hurtful experience and memory.

In summary, before you involve law enforcement or the children in your family dispute, consider the memory your child will have of this experience.  Will it be a bad memory?  If so, consider “cooling off” or other alternatives.  Children have long memories.


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