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I suffered the loss of a cousin last year due to a long struggle with Sickle Cell Anemia. This disease is extremely painful and usually fatal for those unfortunate enough to inherit its traits from their parents. My cousin spent all of her life struggling with this disease and she finally succumbed to its cruel ravages in her mid-twenties. She left behind a beautiful three year old little girl named Valerie that this story is centered around and the Grandparent Rights Law that made sure justice was served.
As you can imagine, the funeral was extremely sad and very crowded due to my cousins passing away at such a young age. Everyone’s primary concern was the fate of Valerie and who would take on the task of raising her. My aunt and uncle played an intrinsic part in raising Valerie due to her mother’s health problems and constant hospital stays. Since they were a main stay in raising Valerie, an agreement was made with them and the father that they would have bi weekly visitation rights. He presented himself as a confident educated young man with a good head on his shoulders. Since they only lived two blocks apart, you would think this would be an ideal situation for everyone involved. This agreement lasted for one month.
I remember visiting my aunt and Valerie on a beautiful spring day just 30 days after the funeral. My aunt explained to us that this was the first time that she has had Valerie since the funeral which confused the hell out of me. She then explained that the sperm donor / father of Valerie was not cooperating with her concerning visitation and she feared that she may need to contact a lawyer concerning Grandparents Rights. I remember seeing the stress and sadness in my aunt’s face and I felt powerless in helping her.
That was the last time my aunt saw Valerie. Their calls and text messages were ignored and the father severed all ties with them. The child that her and my uncle co-raised with my cousin was taken from them by a man who only spent bare minimum time with Valerie and had little to no concern of her well-being up until the funeral. This threw my aunt and uncle into a sprawling depressed state and set the stage for the battle of their lives. They knew the only way they would ever see Valerie again was to get a lawyer and attempt to invoke grandparent’s rights.
After retaining a lawyer and going through all the necessary legal steps, they were scheduled for a court appearance in December which was rescheduled due to the father being a no show. The hearing was then scheduled for late January which meant that my aunt had not seen Valerie since last April. Not only was she grieving the loss of her daughter, but the unnecessary loss of her grandchild.
My aunt informed me of the court date and I offered to attend the hearing if she liked for emotional support. She busted out in tears and thanked me in a way that made my heart drop to the floor. She requested that we bring any family pictures of Valerie that we could because they needed as much proof and family support as possible. I remembered that we had some pictures from the spring that were the most recent so I made sure this task was accomplished.
So here we were, the big day. I arrived at the courthouse dressed in jeans and a sweater because I only planned to be there for support. Once I went through all the annoying safety scanning procedures which I do believe is necessary these days, I gained access to the court house. I quickly found my aunt with quite a few family members, friends, pastor and lawyer. It was about twelve us in all who had taken off work to attend the hearing. At this point, we all stood around waiting for about an hour to enter the courtroom.
While waiting, I saw my nephew talking to a deputy in a civilized but very direct manor. I wasn’t sure what was going on so I asked as soon as he walked back over. He stated that the deputy sitting behind the counter was Valerie’s father’s brother. I remember thinking are you bleeping kidding me and couldn’t believe the situation. In all the court rooms and all the cities, what’s the chance? In addition, he explained that the father has a warrant out for his arrest in an adjacent county and wanted to know why he wasn’t being arrested since he was standing right there in front of him. Since we were in a large city with a pretty serious crime problem, they basically gave a bunch of excuses and never took him into custody.
After about an hour, they called us into the court room and we all sat in our assigned area. To be honest, I was expecting a mediation setting, but this was the real deal with a judge and armed bailiffs. I knew then that if things worked out, the father would be forced to cooperate because he would be going against the word of a judge. I immediately noticed that the father only had his mother with him and no lawyer. He was dressed like he was about to go to a party or club, but not appropriately to be standing front of a judge with the fate of the child at risk. The judge noticed also and was just shy of irate when he heard the defendant’s explanation.
The father explained that he thought this going to be the usual custody mediation meeting that he has been through before for his other child and he didn’t need a lawyer. The judge then questioned if he read the documentation he received in the mail and how he could arrive to court without even checking into what exactly was to occur. He told the father he would allow the proceedings to continue and he realizes that he isn’t a lawyer, but he was not happy at all with the father appearing clearly unprepared with a thin little folder. My aunt on the other hand had boxes of evidence, a lawyer, and an obvious support structure.
The hearing proceeded with opening statements from the lawyer and father. The father did a poor job with the opening statement which was quite insulting. He stated that Valerie’s mother did not die from Sick Cell Anemia, but from pill popping. It is true that she accidentally overdosed on pain killers, but it is also common knowledge that this disease is extremely painful and debilitating. If I could have, I truly would have punched him dead in the face.
The first witness took the stand and the lawyer’s questions were typical. How long have you known them? What kind of grandparents where they? Could they provide, and so on. Then it was the fathers turn which was quite comical at best. He sat quietly thinking of a question. Eventually, the judge asked him did or didn’t he have a question. His question was, ”So do you think my parents aren’t qualified to care for Valerie.” The judge objected and I thought this guy is a real idiot. I figured he wouldn’t examine anyone else if he was smart, but guess what, four more failed attempts that just made him look worst.
The judge looked over at the lawyer and asked for the next witness, and the lawyer called my name. I looked up in shock because I was completely unprepared. I walked up to the podium and I was sworn in. The lawyer asked the typical questions and I explained how I came down to visit in April and that was the last time anyone was able to see Valerie. When it was the fathers turn to cross examine me, he sat there quietly again until it felt awkward. Then he said,” So you think it is okay to take a daughter from his father?” I looked over at him dead in his eyes and said,” No, I don’t think it is okay. But I also don’t think what has been done is okay either. Both parties should have worked things out and we should not be in this court room setting. “ I looked over and I saw his mother nodding her head in agreement with me.
The hearing proceeded with witness after witness and then the judge looking quite frustrated decided to break for lunch. When we returned it was my aunts turn. She did an excellent job testifying that was heart wrenching. She was crying and trying to explain she didn’t know what she did that could have upset him so much. She did ask Valerie questions, but they were all typical questions that a concerned grandparent would ask. Then she started flipping through one of three identical photo albums showing pictures of Valerie and family at various functions. Her tears were flowing and others around the room were soon to follow her tearful state. I noticed that the judge was intently following along with his album and the father just plucked it a way. A truly arrogant person he was and not too bright at all. He chose not to cross examine my aunt which was a good choice for once.
When my uncle took the stand, the father was quite eager to cross examine him. Apparently, he had asked for Valerie’s mother hand in marriage and my uncle told him no. This statement caused an argument between my cousin and my uncle and the police were called. My uncle did not deny this occurrence and stated,” Yes, I said no. You did not impress me then and you definitely have not impressed me now. “ It was all very clear to me then. He wanted to hurt my aunt and uncle for their disapproval of his life style and he used the only weapon that he had.
Eventually the judge asked the lawyer how many more witnesses out of frustration and he told him several. The judge adjourned the hearing because he had to see two more cases. While waiting outside the courtroom, I asked my aunt and the lawyer if there was any need in me staying and they both agreed that there was no need. I decided to head home which was over an hour away and waited till later that evening to call my aunt for the results. When I called, she said the judge saw a few more witnesses and decided to continue the trial later that week. I reassured her that everything was going to be okay and told her that I loved her.
I called my Aunt Thursday night when I got off work and heard the most beautiful thing ever. Not only did they get visitation rights, they got full custody of Valerie. The judge told the father that this is one of the cruelest grandparent rights cases that he ever presided over and he felt the father was not fit to raise Valerie. He explained that his lack of preparation, immaturity, previous and current criminal background, inability to pay child support, inability to retain employment, and his blatant cruelty towards my aunt and uncle led him to this decision.
My aunt and uncle were reunited with Valerie that same day and it was recorded. It was such a beautiful sight watching her run out of the classroom into their arms. Justice was served and I truly believe the judge made the right decision. I never paid much attention to grandparent rights in the past, but moving forward I have a whole new appreciation for the law. All that can be said is Thank God for Grandparent Rights.