The last few days have been quite a whirlwind. I left on Friday to get to Toronto for a conference and then spent the day yesterday trying to get back. Weather caused all kinds of delays and instead of getting home at around 12:45 or something, I ended up not getting home until 5:00. This threw EVERYTHING into a bit of chaos for everyone under this roof. But all of that is a story for another post, because none of it really matters (other than it makes a good tale to tell).
It was really super ultra mega-important that I get back before today because today was THE day. The day that Jessica and I were to appear in front of a judge to petition for guardianship of the three boys. For those of you who have not been through this process (and I suspect that’s most of you), I’ll give you a breakdown.
First we have to fill out forms (called packets because they are multiple pages); one packet for each child. I don’t remember how many pages they are because, frankly, Jessica filled them out. No one would be able to read my writing, anyway (and that’s the story I’m sticking with).
Jessica then, because I was out of town, met with the Legal Aid person for an interview. She then sets up an appointment to have a case worker come to the house, interview us and then the children that are capable of being interviewed (in this case, ‘A’, the 10 year old).
In the midst of this, we have to have all sorts of things notarized, serve the biological parents 10 days in advance of the court hearing, etc.
The case worker came out and spent about an hour and a half speaking with us all, going through the house to make sure we had fit places for them to sleep and giving us a bit of a run-down of what to expect. She did have concerns that, because the mother is not necessarily “unfit” that the judge may not rule in our favor.
The truth is, their mother is not necessarily a bad mother so much as simply someone who recognized that she needed to work on herself some in order to give her kids a better life. Between her conversations with Jessica and her time alone, she recognized that it is downright almost impossible to do that when you have a bunch of kids to take care of. And from day one, we have recognized and pointed out that she should be commended for making the decision she did. It’s no doubt one of the hardest decisions a single parent who genuinely loves their children could ever make. And here is where the social worker recognized that there could be a rub. She did, however, tell Jessica that she was going to recommend us as guardians to the judge.
So, today came the big day. And to say that the day was not without a little bit of drama would be untrue. Jessica woke up to texts from the mom in a panic. Should she show up in court. She is scared to death that everyone is going to think she’s a bad mom. Would she lose benefits? Would she lose everything? All, IMO perfectly valid concerns; especially if it’s something you’ve never been through before. And at this point, we had to lay it all out for her (not that we had not done so before, a number of times). We are NOT taking her kids away from her, we said. Yes, she would lose some benefits, but we are doing this so that the kids will enjoy some stability while she gets her life together. That she should take advantage of the opportunity because most people in her position don’t get that. That the kids are the priority and with them taken care of, she can get herself squared away. We also told her that while we think that’s the better solution, that if she wanted to change her mind, to let us know because we really cannot care for them if we don’t have guardianship. If the kids got hurt, we would be in no position to make medical decisions for them. We cannot make other sorts of decisions such as school (which we are paying for), etc. And ultimately, she decided we were right. Unfortunately, when one makes the decision to do something like this, it is a decision they will revisit, and remake, time and time again. As parents we are always questioning whether or not we made the right decision with our kids. Always. So, it was decided that we’d move on to the proceedings.
We arrived to the courthouse on time, but because parking was difficult and security, we did not actually get to the window where we needed to be until 9:05. Fortunately, they had not called us yet and we were good.
At about 9:30 we were called in and at about 9:40 the Guardian Ad Litem entered the room. Having never been through the process, everything had a very informal feel to it; not what I am used to seeing in a courtroom situation. Jessica provided some additional forms, proof of service and the proceedings began.
First thing they did was swear me in, once it was established why we were there and who was there, whether or not parents were properly served and in default, etc. Having never taken a witness stand of any sort, I have to say it was a little strange being on that side of the bench. Once sworn in, I was asked a bunch of questions by the Guardian Ad Litem. While I cannot remember all of them, it went something like this:
State your name and then spell it: “Marc Benzakein: M A R C B E N Z A K E I N”
Are you aware that you are taking on responsibility for this child until they are 18? That you will make decisions for them, support them, feed them, clothe them, school them, etc? “Yes”
Have you ever been convicted of a felony? “No”
Have you ever been involved with a case involving CPS in any way, shape or form? “No”
How is your health? “Pretty good for a 47 year old”
What do you do for a living? “Software Development”
Where will the kids be when you are working? “Either in school or daycare”
And a few others, but you get the idea. The judge then reiterated a couple of the points (that I would be responsible for them until they are 18) and informed me that as guardians, the parents still retain the right to visit their kids but we can set the guidelines as long as they are reasonable, and did I have any questions?
Jessica was on the stand next and was simply asked if she heard the questions I was asked and if any of her answers were different than mine.
She then stepped down from the stand, at which point the judge asked the G.A.L. if she had a recommendation. At this point the judge was told that she highly recommended guardianship be granted to us, that we have had a visit by the social worker and that we are doing a very good job (she said this at least four times). That the three kids are lucky to have us and that the judge should grant us guardianship.
The judge then informed us that we also had the option to go another route, which was that of becoming foster parents. While this would afford us the same rights to make legal decisions, we’d also get financial support from the State, but we would have to get certified, the mother would be assigned a case worker and, essentially, they’d be in the “system.” Jessica made a VERY good case for why we did not want to go that route, the long and short of it being that if we were to get the State involved, the mother would be more likely to just take the kids and disappear. That we worked really hard to gain her trust and that we have every intention of maintaining the level of trust in an ongoing basis. And, frankly, while the financial support would be welcome, we did not feel that it was a route with the kids’ best interests in mind. That we felt that the decision the mother made to entrust us with what was most valuable to her was commendable and that we did not want to betray that trust in any way, shape or form.
The judge, after Jessica’s response, agreed that the route we have chosen is not only in the best interest of the children, but in the best interest of the mother. She also agreed that it was commendable that their mom had decided to take this step towards a better life.
And so, with that, we were granted guardianship and we can now make decisions for them as if they were our own kids.
People have asked us how it feels now and the main emotion I am feeling, and I assume this is true for Jessica as well, is “relief.” Relief because we can now make legal decisions that impact these kids. Relief because we don’t feel so much like we’re in limbo on everything. Relief because we can work on getting a better idea of how the family is going to look. Relief for so many reasons.
And so, Benzakein Family v2.0 begins.