This is why I am disobeying your order – An open letter to a Judge – part 1 of 3

This is a letter to a Judge out of frustration of dealing with a system that is foreign to the reality which we live in -this letter is from a parent that has had the life ripped from him/ her. Who has had his/ her child removed by the courts.

This is the first of three postings:

Dear Judge,

Two years ago I appeared in your court. I was summoned there with only a few hours notice and appeared without a lawyer. Though no charges were pronounced against me, you legally removed my child from my care and protection, eliminated my right to make any decisions about her, and ordered me to stay away from her most of the time.

From what I have been able to gather about such proceedings, this outcome was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact it quickly became apparent to me that this outcome came very close to being decided in advance. What precisely was said during this brief hearing seems to have made very little difference. As it began, a gentleman who did not know me proceeded to assassinate my character as confidently as if he had personally witnessed each item in his litany of my imperfections. While again, there were no specific charges and nothing legally actionable, it was clear that his role was to translate somewhat vague private grievances against me into a formula that would appear to justify taking away my child.

What struck me at the time was how quickly and effortlessly a child was removed from the care and protection of her parent and her life carved up as if it were the bookings of a holiday cottage. Such and such days she would spend with the non-custodial parent, the rest with the custodial parent. You asked very few questions and sought very little information. The hearing was very brief, and suddenly, I was told, it was over. During the hearing I was allowed to speak very little and interrupted every time I tried. There seemed to be no burden of proof on those who sought to separate me from my child.

I realize that, given the number of similar cases that come before you, you issue these rulings as a matter of routine. I would not be surprised if you have no recollection of this particular case. Nevertheless, for me it was an eye-opening experience and probably the most important thirty minutes or so of my life.

You did not strike me as an unusually malicious or callous person. I am told you are considered among the more favorable judges for parents, and that the time you assigned permitting me to be with my children is relatively generous.

All this may be true. Yet it has also become apparent to me that what I witnessed in your courtroom was a tiny part of a vast system of largely impersonal and unaccountable power that was previously unknown to me, as it still is to most citizens. I am fully aware that you did not create this system and that you yourself may have very little control over it. Nevertheless you are a principal and active participant. So vast and so routine has this power become that you are able, with no background information and in a hearing lasting only a few minutes, to permanently separate a child from a parent without any indication that you were aware of the gravity of what you were doing.

While this central act was disturbing enough, what was again striking were the questions that were not asked, the subjects that were not brought up, the consequences that were not anticipated. You knew that I was accused of no wrongdoing and had agreed to no separation or divorce. You were also aware that I had never lived in this country with my family and that I had neither a residence nor a livelihood here. Yet a number of important matters were never discussed. Did I have a place to live? Did I have a way to get to where my daughter was? Could I work here? Did I have access to a car? Did the hours you permitted me to be with her bear any relation to when I might be able to find or keep employment? What costs would be involved for me or other parties?

You may recall that when my mother attempted to sit in on the hearing she was refused and escorted out. Yet the results of this hearing have profoundly and adversely affected her life. She was forced to take in and support a grown son who was now unemployed. She was forced to cancel the sale of her house so that I would have a place to stay. Her car has been commandeered so that I can see my children and get to work. Did these hardships for her enter into your ruling? They certainly were not brought up in the hearing. It did occur to me at the time, but I was cut off each time I attempted to speak.

What is also noteworthy is that I can recount my recollection of these proceedings without fear of contradiction or inaccuracy, not only because you probably do not remember details of the hearing, but also because no record of it now exists and no impartial witnesses were permitted to be present. In other words, there is nothing and no one to contradict or corroborate my recollection. By the same measure, there is no accountability or recorded reasoning for a ruling that has torn apart the home and world of an innocent child.

In short, it struck me that for the first time in my life I was personally witnessing an instance of what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil”: evil that has become so routinized and bureaucratized that otherwise decent people are able to tell themselves they are doing good when they are doing evil. It is profoundly ironic that I should have returned from five years in a post-totalitarian society to be confronted here in the United States with a new and unexpected version of the kind of bureaucratic dictatorship that has been perhaps the most notable feature of the politics of this century.

When we hear about children being forcibly taken from their parents by Nazi doctors or Communist apparatchiks we are filled with the deepest revulsion. In accounts of American slavery the division of slave families pierces deeper into our hearts than even the physical cruelties of that institution. What family court judges such as yourself do as a daily routine is not on the same level of evil. But it is not so completely different that we should classify the one as among the most detestable “crimes against humanity” and accept the other as desirable treatment for our own children. You may think this comparison offensive. But a government which criminalizes ordinary law-abiding citizens for something so basic as exercising their parental responsibilities is itself on the way to becoming a criminal regime. Parents such as I who are accused of nothing routinely have their children removed from their care and protection, are ordered to stay away from them and to pay money to those who have taken them, and are incarcerated if they refuse or are unable. These parents receive fewer constitutional protections for their basic civil rights and liberties than persons accused of vicious crimes. Yet there is no public outcry, no expose by muckraking journalists, no petition of outraged intellectuals, no review by international tribunals, no inquiries by human rights organizations, no voice of opposition.

Whatever may be said in favor of this practice, there is no justification for ordering me or any other innocent parent to stay away from our children in terms of their well-being. This is a practice that exists not for the welfare of children but for the power and enrichment of adults. It is a practice I cannot in conscience accept, and I believe no other parent can either.

The purpose of this letter is to inform you that I no longer consider your order binding on me and that it is my intention to disobey it. From this time forth I will consider myself free to be with my children whenever I or they choose. I will not hesitate to remove them from any institutional care center at which they are being stored. I will consider myself at liberty to go to any residence where they are being kept with the expectation that I will be permitted to be with my children. In short, I will behave as if I have the same right to do what I choose with my children when and where I choose as any other parent or as I had they day my eldest daughter was born, secure in the knowledge that I have done nothing to forfeit that right. All this will be done in the open view of the world.

At no time will I, as I have never done previously, behave in a disorderly manner; much less will I use any physical force. Consistent with what has always been my parental practice, I will quarrel with no one in the presence of my children. Should I be confronted, as I have been in the past, with contention, disrespect, or physical coercion, I will do my utmost not to respond in kind. Should I, as a creature endowed with my share of imperfections, be provoked to an indiscretion in the presence of my children, I will invoke the only tried and true remedy available to any parent in such circumstances, which is to say I will apologize. Witnessing this will do my children no harm and may possibly set an example they are not likely to see elsewhere. But I will also make it clear, as I must now make it clear to you, that I can no longer tolerate forced separation from my children.

I realize this is not the usual and, from your standpoint, preferred method of responding to a court order. I know that I am expected to hire a professional advocate to argue my case in a courtroom. Yet after prolonged and careful consideration, I have decided that I cannot pursue this course.

( to be continued )

This piece was originally written by Stephen Baskerville several years ago. It addresses the frustration that many parents face in a court system that is broken. It begs the question of how family courts, Guardians ad litem and the divorce industry can live with themselves at the end of the day.

Part two continues – here.

If you have been involved in a divorce/ custody gone bad and for good reason please contact us for support at or find us on Facebook.

Part two and three of this letter may be found here: Judge letter 2, Judge letter 3