In an interview by an unseen filmmaker at the beginning of the film, Talk to Strangers, parents David and Laura Sherwood explain their decision to allow the court to decide issues regarding their children, Emily and Nicky.
“Judges protect children,” Laura declares at one point during the interview.
As with each of the eight child custody myths the parents articulate, Laura’s statement seems reasonable. But the voice of the unseen filmmaker debunks the myth.
“But the judge isn’t involved until the end,” the voice responds.
He’s right. While family judges conscientiously protect what they determine to be the children’s best interests, they cannot protect them from the rigors of the custody evaluation process. Judges don’t supervise the process, and by the time the judge hears the case at trial, that phase of the case has been completed.
The evaluation process humiliates and compromises children in a number of ways that often don’t occur to parents or even to the professionals involved. Emily, for example, is embarrassed when Maria Castillo, the Court Services Counselor arrives just as Emily is getting off the school bus. During the ensuing home visit, Nick tries to hide his teddy bear beneath the pillows on his bed, and defiantly repositions a dinosaur that Castillo has been looking at.
Likewise, Nick is embarrassed when Laura pulls him from the football field for a meeting with his lawyer. And later, he is utterly humiliated when he returns to try on the last remaining team jersey in the box, that is several sizes too big.
“Nice dress!” taunts one of the other players.
In many ways, large and small, children are humiliated and compromised during the custody evaluation process.