Mothers, fathers, and the kids caught in the middle

Every now and again, we read a Minnesota Court of Appeals case involving warring parents and their child caught in the middle, and we wonder how it will ever be possible for a child to survive the damage of warring parents.

It doesn’t really matter to us in today’s case whether the mother or the father won the case before the three-judge panel over custody, parenting time, and the role of the various courts deciding what’s best for the child.

In each opinion, there is a “facts” section, which documents the background of the case.

In today’s case, the father hits kids. The mother has chemical dependency issues. The child, 8 years old, is having his life ruined.

Shadiyah Aljubailah and Aaron James are the parents of a child, A.J., who was born in 2009. The parties have had a lengthy involvement with the district court and family court services regarding custody and parenting-time issues.

Since 2011 family and court service personnel have expressed serious concerns about mother’s chemical-health issues. In March 2013, after an evidentiary hearing, the district court granted sole legal and physical custody to father, subject to mother’s reasonable parenting time, which was conditioned on her abstinence from alcohol and mood-altering drugs and submitting to hair-follicle testing.

Following a 2014 hearing, the district court ordered mother to submit to another hair-follicle test, to complete a rule 25 assessment, and to have supervised parenting time in a public setting.

On October 24, 2016, mother filed a pro se petition for an emergency OFP, alleging that A.J. had (1) shown her bruises on his leg, which he stated were inflicted by his father, and (2) when mother confronted father about the child’s report of abuse, he shoved her with such force that she fell backwards into a table and she feared for her and A.J.’s safety.

The district court granted an ex parte emergency OFP as to both mother and A.J. At an evidentiary hearing on the petition, mother testified that A.J. had indicated that father “[w]hooped” him with a belt when A.J. unintentionally woke father from a nap on October 16, 2016. She testified that when she went to drop A.J. off at father’s home, she asked him why he had hit the child, and father told her to “get the f–k out of the house” and that she would “never see [her] son again,” and he “became enraged” and shoved her.

She introduced evidence in the form of photographs of A.J.’s bruises, which she stated were taken on October 14, 2016, and also photographs of her own bruises taken a week after the incident.

Mother also testified that in 2015, father told her that in order to have overnight visits with A.J., she had to have sex with father, which she did, and he apparently made a video which he threatened to release if she did not continue a sexual relationship with him.

She testified that she was fearful for herself and A.J., that father had previous domestic abuse convictions, and that she had concerns about father’s chemical use.

Father testified that the photographs of A.J. submitted by mother were not taken in October, 2016, but in June, because there was green grass in the background. Father testified that A.J.’s bruises were caused when he spanked him and A.J. “jumped and got hit with” the belt. He testified that he had spanked A.J. with a belt because A.J. had lied, but that he did not hit A.J. hard and that A.J. bruises very easily. He testified that he had only spanked A.J. “three to four [times] maybe his whole life.”

Father further testified that during the October 2016 incident, mother had arrived late to return A.J., and he told her that until they went back to court, it could be the last time she would see her son. According to him, she told him that she would tell people that he had beaten A.J. He testified that he never touched her and she did not lose her balance or fall. He denied the existence of a video tape or that the parties had a sexual liaison. He acknowledged that another woman obtained an OFP against him in 2006.

The child’s guardian ad litem testified that he interviewed A.J., and A.J. corroborated mother’s account that father hit him with a belt when he accidentally woke father. According to the guardian ad litem, A.J. indicated that although father had spanked him only four times, the spankings were very hard.

The district court found that, with respect to allegations of domestic abuse, mother’s affidavit and testimony were credible and father’s testimony was less credible. The district court found that mother had sufficiently established that father committed domestic abuse against herself and A.J. See Minn. Stat. §518B.01. The district court granted an OFP for the benefit of both mother and A.J. and ruled that their safety required that mother be granted temporary sole legal and temporary sole physical custody of A.J.

This appeal follows.

Somehow, courts are supposed to sort out messes like this and, somehow, a child is supposed to survive the life into which he’s born.

For what it’s worth, the Court of Appeals upheld the order for protection against the father.