Where to Now?
Florence felt that Jones had reached the point where he could either back off efforts to see his children and hope that one day they would have some change of heart—or he could take legal steps to force his parent time. “Neither choice is appealing,” Florence wrote in an e-mail. “Each has downsides, and neither has any certain good side.”
Florence added that if Jones wanted to initiate the legal steps, he would suggest writing a report to the court explaining what had happened since his appointment and that no progress had been made. Florence wrote to Sharon stating that he was supportive of Jones seeing his children, and it was time that the children understood that there were potential legal consequences for their unwillingness to spend time with their father.
“In my view, there is a public purpose to be served here,” Florence wrote. “Children do not get to be in charge of their parental involvement. If a judge were to let them succeed here, then it will open the door for many other divorced parents to manipulate such a result.”
Jones returned to court again in summer 2012. He feels he didn’t get much support from the judge or the commissioner, who advised him that he could take the police with him to pick up the kids. Jones felt that forcibly removing the children with the help of the police would be even more damaging than the current situation.
Wharton says that no parent wants their child to associate them with having the police called. “If every time Dad comes to pick up the kids he has to have a cop with him, that doesn’t make parent time seem very fun,” he says.
Jones discovered the National Parents Organization while he was researching parental alienation on the Internet. When he began to notice that they were making “great progress” getting legislation passed to promote shared parenting (parenting by both parents) in other states, he contacted them to see if they were in the process of changing legislation in Utah.
When they told Jones they had acquired 74 names on their mailing list, but had no volunteers or supporters, he agreed to head the Utah organization. He will have the backing of a national organization that has already successfully lobbied and changed laws in other states when he seeks to change the Utah laws to make sure that they are administered fairly.
Jones instructs safety courses at his business. When he concludes each class, he tells a brief version of his custody battle and asks if anyone in the class is going through similar challenges. He has gathered nearly 400 signatures in support of noncustodial parents’ rights and passing family court reform legislation.
One man in Jones’ class paid child support but was not allowed to see his children for 13 years. When the children were over 18, he got a phone call that his daughter was sick and if he wanted to see her a final time, he needed to go to the hospital immediately. The only time he saw his daughter was on her deathbed, in a room full of people. He is currently trying to re-establish a relationship with his son, who is now over 18.
Jason, a father who is a student in Jones’ class, can hardly talk to his 10-year-old son on the phone, let alone see him. His ex often ignores his calls. “When I do get a call from [my son] on my birthday, she makes it so I can only talk a few minutes,” Jason says. “It’s always rush, rush. She’s always listening in on everything I say. She moves around with different cell phones, so I never know which phone to call.” Jason hasn’t seen his son since summer 2012. Christmas and Thanksgiving passed without his holiday visitation. After hearing that his Christmas gifts are always thrown in the garbage, he keeps them at his house to save them for his son.
Because his son lives in Vernal, Jason and his ex-wife decided that his son would stay in Vernal during the school year and spend summers with Jason. “Now, she wants me to split my visitation with some man she broke up with that she feels deserves time with my son,” he says. “She wants me to take that out of my time, not hers.”
Because Ian’s ex had a history of drug and alcohol problems that created an unstable environment for a child, a temporary order granted him full custody of his 3-year-old son for 19 months. Then the temporary order was dismissed without his notification, and his ex “came down and snatched him up,” he says. “During the 19 months he was with me, she only came to see him five times.” But when neither party showed up at the court date, she got her parental rights back, going from limited supervised visitation to having temporary joint custody.
“She won’t let me see him unless I take her back to court or sign the papers her attorney has come up with,” says Ian, who is currently trying to dispute the motion to vacate the dismissal of his ex’s parental rights. He says she owes him $6,200 in back child support for the 19 months he had full custody, without considering her share of the $4,800 he paid for child care during that time. “Yet if I ever told her I couldn’t pay her, she would call [the Office of Recovery Services] and they would garnish it out of my check.”
“These are the people we—and the National Parents Organization—want to help,” Jones says. “All of the parents whose basic parental rights have been taken from them.”
Jones hopes to work toward changing Utah’s laws, but acknowledges that his efforts may not be in time to affect his own situation.
Holstein says that if a parent is successful in alienating a child, it may take decades before the situation ever turns around. “You hear of a 40-year-old reconciling with her aged father after years of never talking or seeing each other,” he says.
Jones remains hopeful and confident that he will have a future relationship with his children. Because Melissa will turn 18 soon, he knows that he may or may not establish a relationship with her. He hopes that as his children get older, they will see how they were manipulated. “It hurts me most that my children felt that a family member was disposable,” he says. “That I could just be kicked to the curb with no remorse or guilt and with no opportunity to defend myself.”
Never Give Up
Looking back, Jones says he would have pushed harder when it first became difficult to see his kids, instead of following the advice of his attorney and counselors. He would have shown up with the police, if necessary, so that he could pick up the kids. He views time as his enemy and feels that the more time his children went without seeing him, the more time Sharon had to help turn them against him.
Jones advises other parents in his situation to never give up and to keep fighting to see their kids. He encourages any such parent to start the legal process as soon as possible. “Unfortunately, the legal process comes with a huge price tag, and many parents can’t afford that, so they walk away.”
Jones points out other pitfalls of court custody battles. “Judges never see the majority of evidence showing what goes on—they are only shown a brief summary that never makes the situation look as serious as it is. Our attorney told us he couldn’t submit all the evidence and e-mails, because judges and commissioners don’t like that. They want everything summed up in a few quick pages.”
He remembers with fondness a time when he and his kids went camping together before the divorce. He really wanted Jeremy to catch a fish. “He wasn’t having much luck,” Jones says. “Finally, there was a fish on my line. I went over and let him pull it in. Years later, after the divorce, Jeremy finally caught his own fish—without his father, while on a Boy Scout trip.
With Melissa, Jones recalls a time when he was assembling a desk for his office. He left the directions in the box, then tried to put the desk together without them. “It was a screw here and a screw there,” he says. Jones realized he needed the directions and went to get them. When he came back, Melissa “had all the screws in the right spots. She said, ‘This just kind of looked like where they would go.’ [Melissa] helped me rebuild cars. She was a good helper.”
While Jones cherishes these memories, he holds onto the hope that he will get the chance to build more memories in the future. “We hear so much about deadbeat dads not paying their child support—but we never hear about the dads who pay their child support and still don’t get to see their kids,” he says.
The National Parents Organization of Utah is next meeting Saturday, April 27, 9 a.m., at 400 W. Lawndale Drive to discuss organizing Utah family court legislation reforms.