Parents — and judge — taking it out on kids

by | Jul 12, 2015 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Most of us can remember being sent to our rooms, or forced to sit at the table all night until we finished our vegetables.

Few of us were ever sent to juvenile detention for not speaking to our parents.

But that’s what happened to three children from the well-to-do Bloomfield Hills area. After the kids, ages 14, 10 and 9, refused a court order to have lunch with their father, a family court judge named Lisa Gorcyca sent them to a detention center called Children’s Village, which, in separate facilities on the same campus, houses kids in drug rehab and repeat offenders with criminal histories.

There is so much wrong with that paragraph, beginning with the words “a court order to have lunch with their father.” But it speaks to where we are as a society today. Some of our most vicious legal wars are waged in family court.

And anyone who has ever endured a nasty divorce is nodding his or her head right now.

This particularly acrid case concerns an internationally prominent General Motors engineer and a pediatric eye doctor. You might think two people so incredibly accomplished could manage to keep from clawing apart their own family.

But you would be naive. There is no connection between professional success and family responsibility. If there were, you wouldn’t see so many divorce squabbles making millionaires out of attorneys.

The ugliness of divorce

According to reports, the mother in this case, Maya Eibschitz-Tsimhoni, has accused the father, Omer Tsimhoni, of being abusive and even violent. The father has accused her of brainwashing the children and deliberately keeping them away.

The judge, who sides with the father on the brainwashing part, actually told the mother she needed to research the Charles Manson cult, saying, “Your behavior in this courtroom … is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in 46,000 cases.”

Now, I know better than to analyze a divorce. If a judge can’t get a grip on it, I can’t. But just because someone asks for a personal protection order doesn’t always mean there’s danger. And just because someone claims his kids have been brainwashed doesn’t make it so. I take no sides in this long, strange and angry battle, which began in 2009.

The fact that it has been going on for six years says as much about the couple as the details do.

Punish the parents instead

Meanwhile, after a hailstorm of criticism, Gorcyca, on Friday, released the children from the detention center, which she admitted to the media was “not ideal,” and assigned them to a summer camp. This after 16 days of, essentially, captivity, which never should have happened.

Gorcyca acknowledged that the decision was offensive to some, but so, to her, was the idea that “the only way to maintain a stable and loving connection with the mother is to vilify and reject the father.”

True, you do wonder how two people presumably in love when they said their vows 20 years ago can come to so despise one another. And when children become the baton that determines the winner in a divorce, it’s always a disaster.

For what? What awful thing did they do? And now they’ve been remanded to summer camp, making arts and crafts feel vaguely like making license plates.

This seems more like a frustrated judge than justice. This wasn’t a case of “scared straight.” The kids were at the facility for weeks!

I understand being fed up with plaintiffs. I understand trying to send a message.

But the message that shrieks is that children are not pawns. They didn’t ask to be brought into a marriage with two such intractable parents. And they shouldn’t be the ones suffering for it.

The parties that aren’t eating their vegetables here are the adults. If you want someone to sit at the table all night, it ought to be them.

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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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