Why Hoarding Hurts Children

DSC00258_1He shuffled into my law office for his 10 am appointment, his shoulders were hunched over and his eyes looked dead. I asked what brought him in to see me and he quietly removed some photographs from a yellow envelope and set them up like a slide show in front of me.

I had never seen anything like it.  A living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, all piled to the rafters with newspapers, junk mail, pizza boxes, dirty laundry, bags of garbage, kitty litter and much more. A trail through the house, no more than a foot wide, was left open as a passage way. In one photo a little girl in a pink dress sat smiling, leaning on a tower of junk.

He was embarrassed as he told me that his wife had transformed their home into a waste pit, that she wouldn’t or couldn’t stop and he was worried sick about his three-old daughter.

He said he loved his wife but believed the home environment was hurting his little girl. He asked me whether he should take his daughter and move out.

I was stymied. This was long before television turned hoarding into a spectator sport and  intuitively I knew his wife’s behavior was an extreme form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I sent the photos to a child psychologist and asked his opinion. I expected him to tell me that my new client had a legal and moral obligation to rescue his daughter from the chaos of their home. But he surprised me…he said that removing the little girl would only increase her anxiety, for after all, what she knew was a crowded, infested home.

My client got his answer and I didn’t see him again.

I didn’t question this psychologist because he was the expert. But today, after scanning Kimberly Rae Miller’s book entitled “Coming Clean” I wonder how that little girl is.

Ms. Miller describes her wrenching childhood, the rats, the bugs, the insecurity she felt as a result of her parents’ activities. Her mother was a compulsive shopper, her father a hoarder, and between them her life was isolating, secretive and shameful. In her late teens Ms. Miller had a breakdown, overdosing on pain killers. That’s when she finally left home and began living in her car. Yes, a car she vacuumed every day.

Family law lawyers see the best and worst of domestic life. That day I saw the misery of hoarding.

 

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Toddler’s Death During Access Leads to Lawsuit Against Psychologist

GEO#1Prince McLeod Rams was 15 months old and on his fourth unsupervised access visit with his father, Joaquin Rams. It would be the last day of Prince’s short life, as during the three-hour visit, he drowned in his father’s bathtub.

Hospital staff became immediately suspicious when they noticed a bruise on Princes’ forehead and dried blood in his nostrils. They contacted child protective services.

It would later be discovered that Prince’s father had purchased over a half a million dollars in life insurance on his son’s life, and that he was under investigation for the murder of his former girlfriend, Shawna Mason, who was shot to death in 2003.

Prince’s mother, Hera McLeod, who had sole custody of her son, had implored the Court to grant only supervised access to Mr. Rams. However, the Court determined that allegations that he ran an on-line pornography site, was a suspect in the death of his former girlfriend, and was also accused of raping a 19-year-old girl were unproven and speculative. Judge Michael Algeo called the allegations “smoke that’s been blowing that I can see through”.

Since being charged with Prince’s murder, the investigation into the death of Rams’ former girlfriend has gained traction and officials are also looking into the circumstances of his mother’s 2008 suicide, a death that some members of the Rams family believe was murder, not suicide. Mr. Rams received his mother’s life insurance, a benefit that rescued him from his dire financial circumstances.

Recently, Prince’s mother filed a lawsuit against psychologist Margaret Wong, who prepared a custody and access report that recommended Mr. Rams be allowed unsupervised access to Prince, expert evidence that was instrumental in the Court’s access decision.

While Ms. McLeod acknowledged that her son’s father was highly manipulative during their 18-month relationship, she suggested that a skilled psychologist, like Margaret Wong, should have detected his true character and focused on her son’s best interests, not her ex’s needs and desires.

Ms. McLeod tells the tragic story on her blog “cappucinoqueen”, while Mr. Rams writes his counterpoint at “KingLatte”. He insists he his innocent and that his son died of a seizure, however, the county medical examiner’s findings negate Mr. Rams’ allegations.

Hopefully, the truth will emerge at Mr. Rams’ trial later this year.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang