This is 1 of 8 myths voiced by parents David & Laura Sherwood to rationalize their custody battle in #TalktoStrangersFilm. It reflects the parents’ sincere though misguided confidence in their ability to protect 9-year-old Nicholas and 12-year-old Emily during the custody case.
As with all the myths that the parents articulate in the opening sequence, the statement that judges protect children from emotional harm during divorce seems, at first blush, reasonable enough. But the fact is that judges generally aren’t involved in custody cases until trial. That’s too late to prevent the harm the custody evaluation process can do to children.
While family judges conscientiously protect what they determine to be the children’s best interests, they cannot protect them from the rigors of custody evaluation. Judges don’t supervise that process, and it has been completed by the time a case comes before a judge for trial.
The evaluation process can humiliate and compromise children in ways that don’t occur to parents or even to divorce professionals. For example, in Talk to Strangers, Emily is embarrassed when Maria Castillo, the Court Services Counselor arrives as Emily is getting off her school bus. During the ensuing home visit, Nick gamely tires to defend his family, tries to hide his teddy bear from Castillo, and defiantly repositions a toy dinosaur that Castillo had picked up to look at.
Likewise, Nick is embarrassed when his mother pulls him from football practice for a meeting with the children’s counsel. Later, his humiliation is completed when he returns to try on the last remaining team jersey in the box; a jersey multiple sizes too large. “Nice dress!” taunts a teammate.
In many ways, large and small, children’s lives are disrupted and derailed during the custody evaluation process. No one can protect them from that except parents who work out their differences over the children, rather than allowing the court system to take over.