MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

VOLOKH CONSPIRACY

Mostly law professors, blogging on whatever we please since 2002 · Hosted by The Washington Post, 2014-2017 · Hosted by Reason 2017 · Sometimes contrarian · Often libertarian · Always independent

"The [11-Year-Old] Child 'Has to Get Herself Ready for School and on the Bus with No Supervision by Mother'"

Is that an allegation of abuse?

Under Tennessee law, allegations in family law cases that are "tantamount to alleging dependency and neglect" have to be handled through particular procedures; in Friday's Cox v. Lucas (Tenn. Ct. App.), the question was whether certain allegations by an ex-husband did indeed qualify as that. No, said the court as to the getting ready for school / getting on the school bus allegations:

We are not persuaded that all statements in father's petition are tantamount to allegations of dependency and neglect under the portions of the statutory definition quoted above. For instance, the petition alleged that "Mother is living in conditions that are not healthy for the minor child's upbringing." That allegation was supported by an attached exhibit depicting mother's home in a general state of disarray. According to the petition, "[t]he child is uncomfortable having friends over, due to the living conditions." We cannot say that this constitutes an allegation that the child is "in such condition of want or suffering ... as to injure or endanger the morals or health of such child ...." ...

Other allegations in the petition are more serious. For example, the petition alleged that

[t]he minor child is often alone without any adult supervision, and Mother is unavailable to tend to the minor child's needs. The minor child is left alone at night with Mother returning in the early morning hours. Mother routinely will tell the minor child that she is going to the store and does not return for hours at a time.

The petition also claimed that the child "has to get herself ready for school and on the bus with no supervision by Mother." According to the website of the Juvenile and Family Courts:

There is no legal age for children to stay at home alone. Parents are advised to use their bestjudgment, keeping the child's maturity level and safety issues in mind. Younger children have a greater need for supervision and care than older children. Obviously, young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time. In most cases, older teenage children may be left alone for short periods of time.

Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, Juvenile & Family Courts, FAQS, http://www.tncourts.gov/courts/juvenile-family-courts/faqs. The child in the present case was eleven years old at the time of father's petition. It is probably unfair to say that an eleven-year-old child cannot be left home alone at any time or that such a child cannot be trusted to get on the school bus without supervision. However, father's petition alleged that the child was "often" left home alone, even in the middle of the night. If these allegations do not fit squarely within section (C) of the statutory definition [defining "dependent and neglect" children to include those who are under "improper care"], they are very close.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Longtobefree||

    "Obviously, young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time. In most cases, older teenage children may be left alone for short periods of time."

    Obviously: A child should not be unsupervised for a single moment on the day before his tenth birthday. Two days later it is just fine to be left alone. Right.

    "older teenage children may be left alone for short periods of time"
    True; most 19 year olds can be left alone long enough to get a job of their own and move out into their own apartment and screw their brains out.

  • santamonica811||

    When I was 15 and my sister was 17; my parents would go to Europe for 3 months during the summer. I had a summer job; my sister had a summer job, and all was fine. (We had extra money for emergencies, plus a dozen phone numbers of mom's/dad's friends in the city, also for emergencies.)

    Ah, different times.

  • Toranth||

    Never without supervision at any time? Including when asleep or in the bathroom?

    If anyone had attempted to supervise my visits to the toilet at age 9, they would have gotten a face full of something they (probably) didn't want.

    4th graders are quite capable of taking care of themselves for significant periods of time.

  • Rossami||

    "Often" is an undefined term that, in context, means only "more than the dad wants". That should be kicked back as insufficient weasel-wording on the part of the dad's lawyer.

    I'll also note that "has to get herself ready for school and on the bus with no supervision by Mother" is not a statement of harm. If the child is able to do so (at whatever age), then a good parent should be encouraging the child to take on that responsibility. The father would be on stronger footing if he alleged that the child had to fend for herself and had failed to get on the bus X times or was improperly dressed for conditions Y times or was missing lunch or critical school supplies, etc. But without some allegation that the child is failing, the mere absence of supervision is in my opinion a positive statement about the mother's childrearing techniques, not a negative.

  • gormadoc||

    "The minor child has to get herself ready for school and on the bus with no supervision by Mother. Mother also allows child to stay home "sick" and then takes child with her on trips to do odd jobs."

    Then later:

    "Mother has told the minor child to lie to school officials about her tardiness or absences."

    Read the full document; if much of it is true the mother is not a good mother. The document itself is a petition for emergency relief, so I think expecting more specificity isn't warranted in the petition itself.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "The document itself is a petition for emergency relief, so I think expecting more specificity isn't warranted in the petition itself."

    I think the opposite should be true. Since a petition for emergency relief is trying to get relief on shortened process, bypassing discovery and a bunch of other procedures, it should be expected to have greater specificity.

  • James Pollock||

    I think the argument is that the initial petition, being prepared and submitted in a hurry, may lack details which can be brought forward at the hearing.
    The question is just how much detail is necessary to justify proceeding to a hearing.

    I've been on the other hand. My ex-wife petitioned to overturn custody over and over again. She got one ex-parte application, in which she got caught lying, and after that, every hearing was with advance notice for me. Each was a waste of the court's time.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    I know what his argument is, I just think it's bullshit.

    The petition is asking for expedited process, skipping opposing motion practice, discovery and many other procedures to get to a hearing much faster than they would with a normal motion. I think that warrants an expectation that the petition will be prepared with much greater care than a normal motion.

  • James Pollock||

    "I know what his argument is, I just think it's bullshit."

    Had you said "not persuasive", I could go along with that. But it's not bullshit.

    If the kids are in danger, putting procedural roadblocks in the way is not the way to protect them.
    At the actual hearing, you need specific allegations with evidential support. But the emergency petitions are prepared to handle emergencies.

  • Rossami||

    The problem, James, is that you are assuming your conclusion. IF the kids are in danger, procedural roadblocks are bad. But from the outside, we don't know - we can't know if that's true. Maybe the dad is the real danger. The legal process is designed to uncover the truth. And the "procedural roadblocks" are an important part of that process.

    I'm not arguing for delay just for delay's sake. Certainly there are aspects of the process that can and should be expedited. But on the whole, I'm with Matthew that a situation calling for extraordinary measures should have extraordinary justifications.

  • James Pollock||

    "The problem, James, is that you are assuming your conclusion."

    The not-problem, you mean, since I am not assuming anything.

    "The legal process is designed to uncover the truth."

    Specifically, the hearing part of that process is designed to uncover the truth. The petition part is not.

    " But on the whole, I'm with Matthew that a situation calling for extraordinary measures should have extraordinary justifications."

    And the place to address those concerns is in the hearing.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    No, the opposing side deserves adequate notice of what the petitioner is going to claim at the hearing so they can properly prepare for the hearing.

    Allowing one side to blindside the other makes uncovering the truth harder not easier.

  • James Pollock||

    " the opposing side deserves adequate notice of what the petitioner is going to claim"

    They're going to claim "my home is better for our children than yours is". If you don't know why someone would think that, it might be a sign that they're right. If the reason they think that isn't based on facts, the evidence won't support it.

    Prepare your own argument "nuh-uh. MY home is better than YOURS."

    I got hit with one of these. The petition was ex-parte, and I didn't even get to see the petition until after the hearing. Had any of the wild claims been true, taking my child away would have been the correct decision. They weren't, and that was taken into account when the permanent hearing was held two weeks after the emergency hearing.

  • Rossami||

    I am happy that your situation was resolved as cleanly as you describe, James. Too often, lives are destroyed between the period of the petition and the hearing. Too often, even the wildest and most implausible claims are accepted as justification to break the family apart "just in case". And far, far too often, the accused are put in the position of having to prove their own innocence.

  • Bob from Ohio||

    "not a good mother"

    I doubt that is a legal standard anywhere for abuse/neglect. Seems pretty subjective.

  • James Pollock||

    The correct standard is "not a good enough mother".

  • David Bremer||

    "The minor child has to get herself ready for school and on the bus with no supervision by Mother. Mother also allows child to stay home "sick" and then takes child with her on trips to do odd jobs."

    Then later:

    "Mother has told the minor child to lie to school officials about her tardiness or absences."

    Read the full document; if much of it is true the mother is not a good mother.

    When I was a kid, with a single mother working two jobs (often at night) to make ends meet, my mother would occasionally show up to school and report a "family emergency." We'd get pulled out of class to meet her. She'd then say she decided it was an emergency we spend time as a family. We'd then go do something, and I'm sure sometimes stopping to do odd jobs.

    I finished near the top of my class, was the first in my extended family to go to college, and now have a law degree.

    You, sir, can go shove your comment exactly where it seemingly came from.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Your mother sounds like a dope. I'm glad you overcame your childhood circumstances.

  • David Bremer||

    I always love when people who grew up in two-income, suburban homes get all haughty about people who didn't have the same luxuries as kids in single-parent homes. The time my brother and I spent with our mother on those rare occasions sure as hell outweighed wasting a couple more hours in class reviewing the same material I had figured out three years earlier.

  • James Pollock||

    "I always love when people who grew up in two-income, suburban homes get all haughty about people who didn't have the same luxuries as kids in single-parent homes."

    So anyone who disagrees with you only does so because of their luxurious, suburban, two-parent upbringing?

  • David Bremer||

    No, but anyone who looks down their noses at people because of choices they must make because of their financial situations certainly does.

    My parents split because my dad was abusive. We were in a small town, and the only jobs my mom could get required her to work two jobs, meaning nearly every evening and usually all weekend - often late into the night. So it wouldn't be uncommon to not really see her all that much for long stretches. When that went on for a while, she'd basically pull us out of a day of school to go do something fun as a family.

    If you're response is, "What a dope. She should have taken you to the museum on the weekend like all the good parents," you can understand why I take a little offense. Particularly when I have no doubt many of those same people have no qualms about taking their kids out of school for vacations.

  • Raspberry243||

    Your mama sounds like a wise and committed parent. We have done the same thing with our kids. I think it teaches them that they are important, that their parent prioritizes their emotional health, and they matter to others.

  • James Pollock||

    A child being left alone to handle routine things that the child has a demonstrated ability to do is not neglect, but leaving the kid alone for extended periods increases the likelihood that the kid runs into something that is NOT routine, and that can produce anxiety (in the kid... it's obviously producing anxiety in the father) even if nothing goes wrong.

    I concur with Rossami above that the dad's lawyer has failed to provide sufficient specificity in the mother's offenses... although I will use a slightly different tone to describe them.

  • Diane Merriam||

    Anxiety is the normal response for anyone doing something that they haven't dealt with before. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact it should be fairly common, especially for children, who haven't many things or anything like them before. Being anxious, doing it anyway, and respecting yourself afterwards for having dealt with it is a normal part of growing up.

    I am not saying the father doesn't have grounds ... he may well have them. My problem is everyone assuming that children should be bundled up in bubble wrap for the first 18 years of their lives and then expecting them to magically become a responsible, self-sufficient adult overnight.

    The more responsibility they get over their own lives, the more things they have proven themselves able to do on their own, the better off they are.

  • gormadoc||

    I think perhaps people should read the document before assuming the dad is helicoptering...

  • Rossami||

    No because we're not responding to the whole document. We're answering the question posed at the top - Is "the [11-Year-Old] child 'has to get herself ready for school and on the bus with no supervision by Mother" an allegation of abuse?

  • Krayt||

    I was getting up, eating breakfast (cereal or toaster waffles) and going to school for years in grade school while mom slept in. Is the question this process, or a complaint mom isn't there if she has a problem?

  • James Pollock||

    Your experience do not necessarily equate to this child's.
    If something came up that was serious enough to need Mom's attention, you could wake her up to handle it. If mom isn't there at all, this isn't an option.

    I had a kid who was very self-reliant. I had, in many cases, more faith in her decision-making and problem-solving skills than I did in her mother's. But there are still some things that an adult can handle that a child can't... the fact that bad results haven't happened is not a guarantee that they won't. You can't guarantee good results, but you can increase (or decrease) the odds. In most cases, you aren't looking for a single incident, but the trend or pattern (and direction of any change)

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "but you can increase (or decrease) the odds."

    But you also can't guarantee which result, increase or decrease in the odds of a good result you will get from any particular intervention. Beware the law of unintended consequences.

  • James Pollock||

    What a good point! I almost wish I'd addressed directly inside the sentence you quoted from.

  • phoqueue||

    Obviously, young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time.

    That's not at all obvious to me.

    The majority of students in my elementary school -- hundreds of them -- walked or biked to school on their own, without supervision.

    Were our parents and the complicit school administrators all negligent monsters?

  • GabrielSyme||

    In the early 90's I walked (or biked) to school on my own (or with my older sister until she went on to middle school) until I finished elementary school. And I likely would have continued to do so if the middle school had been close enough. The fact that my mom was a teacher at the middle school at the time and could just give me rides also simplified things.

  • RobinGoodfellow||

    When I was 10-11 and my brother was 8-9 we biked 3 miles to and from school every day. I don't think that was a big deal.

  • RobinGoodfellow||

    Of course, that was the 1970s.

  • James Pollock||

    The 1970s were more dangerous than is present-day America.

  • regexp||

    I woke up, dressed and fed myself, and walked a mile to elementary school everyday starting at age 7 and that was in the 80s. My nephews make that same walk today.

    Despite our Dear Presidents and conservative comments to the contrary - this country has never been safer to live in.

  • James Pollock||

    AWAG

  • santamonica811||

    What does AWAG stand for? A Google search showed nothing remotely relevant. (It mostly tried to convince me that I meant to type "s-w-a-g.")

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    I think it's a play on Trump's MAGA (Make America Great Again) motto.

    In that light, the obvious choice is America Was Always Great.

  • James Pollock||

    Already.

  • James Pollock||

    Maybe I should have put a hashtag sign in front of it.

  • DjDiverDan||

    1960, I was 6, my older brother 7. We had two younger siblings, including my youngest brother, not yet a 2-year old, and my sister, then a 4-year old, that my mother had to care for. So my older brother and I dressed ourselves, fed ourselves breakfast, and walked to school on our own, a distance of about 1.4 miles (assuming Google Maps is accurate). Was I abused? Because I sure don't think so. Should the standards of neglect and abuse change so much in just 2 generations? No.

  • James Pollock||

    "Was I abused? Because I sure don't think so."

    I believe the claim would be neglect, not abuse.

    "Should the standards of neglect and abuse change so much in just 2 generations? No."

    Wait. Should the opinion of a 6-year-old about abuse or neglect be treated the same as the opinion of an adult about abuse or neglect? Because that's what you're really asking.

  • Toranth||

    Unless you are suggesting the DjDiverDan is 6 years old right now, there is no opinion of a 6-year-old here.

    You have the opinion of an adult about what he went through at age 6, which is entirely different. It is better informed, in fact, that the opinion of any other adult about whether or not what that 6-year-old experienced was neglect/abuse.

  • James Pollock||

    "Unless you are suggesting the DjDiverDan is 6 years old right now, there is no opinion of a 6-year-old here."

    Except for the one, you mean.

  • James Pollock||

    "Unless you are suggesting the DjDiverDan is 6 years old right now, there is no opinion of a 6-year-old here."

    Except for the one under discussion.

    "You have the opinion of an adult about what he went through at age 6"

    I do? What is it?

    " It is better informed, in fact, that the opinion of any other adult about whether or not what that 6-year-old experienced was neglect/abuse."

    What an interesting claim you've pulled out of your ass.

    You may lack the ability to perceive and analyze facts better than a 6-year-old, but please do not presume to ascribe your deficiencies to others.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    At that age my mother would give me some money and a grocery list, and expect me to walk a couple miles to the grocery store, buy the groceries, and walk home with them. On summer vacation I was allowed to row out on a small boat and spend all day fishing, I just couldn't go out of sight of shore.

    Children that age are capable of a lot more than they're permitted today.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Is the question really whether the worst example in a list of accusations is sufficient grounds for anything?

    This isn't a question of putting the kid in foster care. It is a question of whether the child would be better off in the custody of the father.

    Wouldn't you expect the lawyer to include the kitchen sink?

  • James Pollock||

    "This isn't a question of putting the kid in foster care. It is a question of whether the child would be better off in the custody of the father."

    It's not even that. It's a question of whether the father has suggested a problem serious enough to hold a hearing on whether the current custody arrangements need modification.

    "Wouldn't you expect the lawyer to include the kitchen sink?"

    I would expect the lawyer to include only those facts which the lawyer knows or has a reasonable basis to believe are true. .

  • Dadlobby||

    And lost in the discussion is the "best interest of the child" and the lack of shared parenting. Most people are unaware that the Federal Government subsidizes family break up and awarding sole custody to mothers as this maximizes federal $$ reimbursements to the states. Why is the child not placed with the father? Sexual bias and the loss of state revenue, http://nymensactionnetwork.org.....rt-reform/

  • James Pollock||

    There are some factors that increase the likelihood that a mother will win a contested custody hearing. Taking an infant from a nursing mother takes pretty strong evidence that the father is the better placement, and the general judicial hesitance to separate siblings means that one infant affects the placement of all the children.

    By far the biggest factor affecting child custody is which parent asks for it.
    Mothers seek physical custody of children far more often than do fathers.

    All that said, if a father shows a superior commitment to the well-being of the children, they can and usually will win custody. I did. It helped that my ex-wife made the same assumption that you did... that she'd win just by asking, and didn't have to actually make any effort to show that she could provide a better home.

  • Diane Merriam||

    "Obviously, young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time. In most cases, older teenage children may be left alone for short periods of time."

    By the time I was six years old (and maybe younger, I really don't remember ever being walked to school, even in 1st grade, although I'm sure I was, at least for a first few days) I walked to school and back myself, including crossing a major roadway. Play time was "back by" dinner/dark/whatever. Climbing trees, playgrounds, roller skates, gone all day down by a local stream and pond, etc. By tweens I was already babysitting, going downtown alone on the Rapid Transit, and doing my own clothes shopping on a fixed allowance.

    Kids today are of the same species and have the same potential for self care as they ever had. How the hell are they supposed to learn self responsibility if they aren't given the chance to do so?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online