How the Legal System continues to fail our Children
The failure on the part of fathers to continue to support their children when a couple has decided to part ways, is an all too common occurrence here in Saint Lucia. It has become accepted as the norm, an almost typical Lucian trait among a vast population of our men, as the island appears synonymous with a culture of absentee fathers. This week the STAR addressed this pertinent issue, a widespread dilemma so many frustrated single mothers can surely relate to.
Karen, as we will call her, is our feature mother for this story. She tells us, “On Thursday 5th May, 2016 I proceeded to the Castries branch of the Family Court to apply for a child support warrant. This was actually long overdue because it had been almost a year since he had made a payment or taken care of the kids; we have a son and daughter.
“My children’s father had been long delinquent in making his ordered child support payments but after overlooking his complacency for one month too many I decided to take a stand on behalf of the youngsters.
“He used to take excellent care of the children until I broke up with him. When I left, he became very disrespectful, bitter and angry toward me, and drastically changed toward the children. He used to abuse me verbally all the time and harass male friends he would see me with, until I applied for a restraining order which was granted, and subsequently a child support order.”
Karen proceeded to explain that she followed up on her application by attending the usual swearing at the Court and thereafter called the office to ensure that the warrant had been filed, so as to avoid any setbacks in the process.
“When we last spoke he said he had no money. This is what he always said, even when he was overseas. He threatened to leave the island again. This is what spurred me to go down to the Court,” said Karen.
According to her, he had been abroad for the better part of half a year, during which time she received monies from him for the first couple of months and thereafter no financial assistance or otherwise.
“Even when he returned he never once saw the children. He has been here from the beginning of the year and has been avoiding his responsibilities.”
With regards to the warrant she says that she was assured by an officer of the Courts that all documents had been processed. “There had been some errors within the documents initially which I brought to their attention. The clerk confirmed that these had been rectified and all was in order.”
Three weeks had elapsed and not a word heard from those concerned at the Court until she decided to take the bull by the horns and follow up. It was then that Karen received the dreaded news that there was no record of the warrant.
“I was asked by more than one person whether I am sure I came in to swear that day. They questioned me about the date and said there was no record of me swearing.”
Following this, she reported that she was asked to contact the Writ Department - responsible for issuing warrants. After making countless phone calls and speaking to several persons about the matter, she was told there was no record of the documents and that no warrant had been issued.
“How they could enquire about me coming in to swear is proposterous, considering the fact that the very documents I was given to take up to the magistrate were issued by their own administrative department,” she complained.
The officer in question, after thoroughly searching through their records, called to confirm that the warrant was never prepared and therefore never issued. The documents seemed to have mysteriously disappeared! “How could this be?” she exclaimed, but in the back of her mind she already had a suspicion as to what may have gone wrong.
“From the day I went in to apply for the warrant, as I waited in line, I was pondering, thinking I hope I do not experience any difficulty. My children’s father has a sister who works with the police department within the same jurisdiction where the warrant would be dispatched. I brushed the thought aside and reassured myself that our legal system deserved more credit than this, to even imagine that any foul play would be at work within the process.”
Karen admitted that she had somehow sensed that something would go wrong and almost a month later her premonitions became a reality.
“I received a call from an officer at the Gros Islet police station who was not even affiliated with the case. He called to say that there was no record of me filing for a warrant, no documents, nothing of the sort. As to how he received word about my situation I am none the wiser. I do know, however, that my children’s father knows him well.”
Karen affirmed that by then she was becoming convinced that something had gone wrong, as no one up to that point could account for the missing documents.
“The clerk I dealt with recalled me coming in that day and her having to make the corrections. She confirmed having done so and submitting them. What she said was that after the documents left her hands she was unable to account for what happened to them. I explained to her the reason for my frustration and she empathized, admitting her confusion, as well, as to their whereabouts.”
According to Karen, the clerk, after countless phone calls and having to constantly follow up herself on this matter, informed her that the original documents were not recovered.
“What I don’t understand is how Court documents just vanish without a trace. It is baffling and absurd! Surely someone has to be able to give an account for them. Other persons who came in to Court that day with me who had applied for warrants as well around that time, told me those they had filed had been successfully issued.”
She went on, “For some, the fathers had been detained and the payments made accordingly. So what happened with mine?”
Not about to accept the fact that no one at the office could account for the original documents and the fact that the warrant was never even issued she pursued the matter.
“What angered me more was the fact that I was told that he had left the island. He owes almost $4,000 to date.”
The young woman told the STAR that she had been trying her best to be optististic about the situation.
“I hope his sister is not behind all this. I would rather it be a case of incompetence on the part of the Family Court, as awful as that would be, than to think that anything underhand was in operation here.”
After all the tension of waiting and the added stress of having to be the one to follow up on the matter, she now continues to wait.
“What hurt me the most was that no one seemed to care or was bothered to follow up on the matter. I guess if it were one of their relatives or friends they would have. The officer I was asked to call back to follow up on the new set of documents, to my amazement again informed me they weren’t there initially. He had asked me to allow him time to liaise with the rest of the department and get back to me. At least he actually did. At that point, he said they had finally been filed and would be issued within the week.”
Now all Karen can do is wait some more for the warrant to be issued, and in the meantime, all she can do is hope for the best. While she waits, how many other mothers with no real avenue to be heard face similar situations without any form of justice being served? How many fathers manage to escape from a legal system which is supposed to be dependable, having been put in place to protect our children?
“While the court system claims to be making provision for the future generation, by providing legal representation and exercising measures to compel absentee fathers to acknowledge their responsibilities, our justice system continues to fail our juniors miserably,” a frustrated Karen expressed.
Children all over the world are abandoned by fathers but the problem seems to have reached epidemic proportions in Saint Lucia.