Have you thought much about your own Judgment Day?
I hadn’t. That is until our more recent visits to the courtroom.
Last Tuesday was a pretrial hearing for Little A’s case. We sat in the gallery of the courtroom several pews behind A’s mother. She sat at the defendant’s table all alone. Her shoulders were shrugged into herself and she looked even smaller than she is in the black and grey hooded sweatshirt she wore. The judge’s bench loomed in front of her. On the other side of the courtroom at the prosecution’s table sat a gaggle of well and colorfully dressed blonde-headed ladies – lawyers and caseworkers – all representing the best interests of Little A. It was impossible not to notice just how lonesome A’s mother was, juxtaposed to the pack of older, educated women at the competing desk. My heart was in turmoil, oscillating between demands of justice for Little A and gut-wrenching empathy for the solitary young mother before me. Her lawyer had called in over the phone – distant representation without a face or physical presence to offer guidance and support.
This was an important day in the courtroom. It was a day to determine if the case would proceed to trial on September 2.
Let me give you a little foster care process background so that you know what brought us to this point…
Biological parents have a set amount of time to work on and complete their treatment plans. In A’s case, due to her young age, the “set amount of time” is one year. If representatives for the child can agree that enough progress has been made on the treatment plan prior to the one-year mark, visitation with bio parents is ramped up and a schedule for reunification of the child with bio parent(s) is put in place. On the other hand, if representatives for the child do not agree that reunification of the child with the bio parents is in the best interest of the child, yet the biological parents still seek to regain custody, the case is brought to trial.
Bringing a child’s case to trial is not ideal. I am told it is an emotional situation for everyone involved and is to be avoided if at all possible. A’s parents and their state appointed lawyers will face off against A’s team of lawyers, caseworkers, and volunteer advocates. A day and a half of testimony will be presented. Witnesses will be called to the stand. Experts will be asked to weigh in. A’s bio parents as well as Adam and I will likely have to take the stand (um – freaking out!). Supporters for either side will fill, or not fill, the seats in the gallery.
If A’s lawyer’s “win” this case, the rights of the biological parents will be immediately terminated. A would essentially become an orphan for a temporary period of time until her adoption day. If the bio parents “win” this case, A will remain in foster care for a newly specified amount of time while the parents continue work on their treatment plans. (“Win” is an inaccurate word to use in situations like this.) From what I understand the case would then go back to trial in some months for reevaluation.
It has been suggested that the experience of a trial will be devastating for A’s parents, win or lose. They will be faced with tough questions on the stand and hard to swallow presentations to the judge of them as people and as parents.
Did I mention that I am also freaking out about taking the stand? Speaking in front of people is hard enough for me. Speaking in front of people, about another person, who is also in the room, whom I hope to have a relationship with in the future, is going to be infinitely more terrifying. Oh man, I don’t even want to think about it. And I’m trying not to – too much – as I’m still praying for one of the other options to come to fruition.
The other options are voluntary relinquishment (best case scenario), or that the parents won’t show up on trial day and the case will default to termination.
Voluntary relinquishment was one of the major points of the pretrial hearing last Tuesday. The judge wanted to hear from the parents that they still intended to go to trial. They could, after all, throw their hands in the air and surrender custody of their daughter. Voluntary relinquishment is the preferred route because trial would be avoided, state imposed termination would be avoided, and more time in flux and in temporary foster care for Little A would be avoided. The parents would also avoid having a termination on their permanent record forever, which carries with it several implications including red flags if they have future children and the inability to ever work anywhere or anyplace involving children. Relinquishment, on the other hand, carries with it no legal ramifications.
It is a choice for A’s parents that I do not envy. It’s a battle for them of head versus heart, desire versus ability, pride versus honesty, and the fight for love versus the strength to surrender in light of it. It is a lot to process and A’s parents are young and largely unsupported. We can hardly imagine being in their shoes. Yet participating in this case has personified the faith we have in the nerve-wracking fact that we too will be sitting at the defendant’s table in front of The Judge some day. I had never visualized this occasion before. Seeing A’s mother there brought the whole thing to life and got me thinking about some important questions…
Will I have an advocate at my trial to represent me, or will I have to speak on my own behalf? Will it be a somber or joyous day? Who will I call to the stand? What will my witnesses say? Who will the witnesses for the prosecution be? Is there testimony I will be ashamed of? And most importantly, how can I make restitution for my choices now?
I have not and do not always love God or others well or enough, but I believe God’s “treatment plan,” in theory, is simple. The Bible says the greatest commandment is to love God and the second greatest is like it, to love people. Everything else [in the “treatment plan”] hangs on this. This case has reminded me to relinquish my rights on a daily basis and to continue to chip away at the treatment plan. I’d like to avoid the trial all together. How about you?
We should have some answers regarding Little A on September 3. I will keep you posted!
As always, thanks for reading and would love to hear from you.