The house was absolutely filthy. He couldn’t imagine how anyone could live in such a disaster. He had heard stories, yes, but he never imagined it had become this bad.
They had decided to sue for custody of the children. There were just too many issues that he couldn’t ignore. All three of them were failing school; they had missed more days than they had attended this year. When they did go, they were bullied because they were “dirty and smelly.” How could they not be when they had no time to take baths and laundry was never done. According to the kids, when they did go to school, they were picked up immediately afterwards and spent until eleven or twelve at night running the town with their mom. She would be out visiting her friends and dragging them along. They didn’t have time to do homework and when they got home, they were too exhausted to take baths. They’d climb into beds with no sheets or blankets on them and pass out until it was time to start all over again the next morning.
He would pick them up every other Friday for his weekend visitation. They would go out to dinner on those nights and would often have to go shopping for new clothes first. They were never dressed to go out. Clothes were either too small or too stained to be appropriate. Although he worked, nights, he would spend every moment he could with them. When he had to sleep during the day, his new wife would take them to lunch and a movie or to the park. They enjoyed their weekends together, but he dreaded taking them back home on Sundays.
This was no way for any child to live. When they met with the lawyer to discuss custody, they provided her with all their concerns. She was also given pictures of the current state of the house. The lawyer filed the paperwork with the court and a date was set.
He walked into the mediation room and was very apprehensive. He still cared for his ex-wife. After all, she was the mother of his children. He would always care for her; however, the well-being of his kids was more important. He knew this would be hard, but it had to be done. Their lawyers were each given an opportunity to question both of them. He found the questions asked of his wife excruciatingly painful. He didn’t want her to be humiliated, he didn’t want to make her feel bad, but he also didn’t want her to think that it was okay for their kids to be raised this way. At times, he wanted to crawl under the table until it was all over.
The moment came when his lawyer handed the pictures of the house to the judge. Pictures that showed dishes that had been in the sink for days, noted by the red ring, caused by spaghetti sauce, around the sink and the bugs flying around it. The pictures of the bedrooms showed unmade beds with no sheets or blankets on them; trash, such as empty Capri-sun pouches and candy bar wrappers, just thrown on the floor. The floors of the closets were a mixture of clean and dirty clothes, along with empty food containers and miscellaneous garbage. Papers and trash covered almost every surface of the living room.
The judge took an extremely brief glance at a few of the pictures, turned to him and asked, “When can you pick the children up?”