All *Ramona wanted was for her son to be safe, which means having sole physical custody. She also wanted him to be heard, and to be happy, which includes a relationship with his father – Ramona’s ex-husband. If not a close relationship, at least a decent one.
We’re excited to report that after working with Legal Aid, Ramona was able to come to a custody agreement with *Raffy’s father, which started to repair the strained relationship between Raffy and his dad.
Though Ramona agreed not to have full custody, her son Raffy ended up deciding to spend summer vacation with his dad on the mainland.
Legal Aid’s representation in court had made Raffy feel heard and seen by people, especially by his father.
It started with a temporary restraining order (TRO). Ramona was referred by the Child, Welfare and Family Services (CWS) in October 2020 after a huge altercation. Raffy reported that his dad *Simon had grabbed him and covered his nose and mouth, prompting Ramona to take legal action.
“We filed an emergency custody motion seeking for Ramona to have sole custody of Raffy,” said Emily Hills, Staff Attorney, Family Unit. “Current situation that time was joint custody. The 50-50 was only on paper because Raffy only spent weekends with his dad, but his dad kept threatening to enforce the prior 50-50 time-sharing order, which would have been very detrimental for Raffy.”
The TRO was filed, as advised by CWS. However, upon further investigation, it was discovered that what had occurred was a one-time incident. CWS did not believe there to be an ongoing threat of abuse to Raffy and the case was dismissed.
“Raffy didn’t know how to respond to his situation and was suffering from serious depression and self-harming thoughts,” observed Emily. “So during the TRO process while Ramona had full custody, we requested a step-up custody schedule to ease the boy into spending more time with his dad. We also requested a court order for him to go to therapy. Raffy had been threatening suicide because he was unhappy at his dad’s house.”
Emily represented Ramona in court, showing up in several hearings to negotiate with Simon’s lawyers who did not approve of the therapy and wanted to continue the 50-50 custody despite the actual practice of dad visiting only on the weekends.
“I feel like this is the kind of case where full representation ended up helping the family,” said Emily. “When the other side is represented, Legal Aid has the opportunity to even the playing field. This is the case where the child needed to have a voice and mom wanted to make that happen because we were able to do full representation. Believe it or not, that seems to have made a bigger help.”
The full-rep process included a continuance, negotiations, helping Ramona navigate the file pleadings, and talking with CWS. Ultimately, Ramona was able to get Raffy enrolled in a private school that would be a better fit for him, and we were able to negotiate Simon’s agreement to have Raffy change schools, which greatly improved his happiness.
“My son is no longer running away from his dad like he did before which is relieving for me,” said Ramona. “He even told me that, although the court did not let him live with me full-time like he'd asked for, it at least made his dad ‘change’. So long as he perceives his dad as a changed man, I'm okay.”
It was a good new chapter for all of them, as the case was successfully closed in October 2022.
“What made Ramona happy with the case was that we gave Raffy a voice,” said Emily. “He was able to talk to custody investigators and air his opinion. He felt listened to, he knew that his mom was fighting for him. And once his father said ‘you don’t have to be with me’, that’s when Raffy wanted to spend time with him.”
Raffy is currently going through therapy and his mental health is better. Although he continues to struggle with emotional regulation, according to Ramona, his depression seems to have subsided.
“I don't know what the future has for us, but I sincerely hope that Raffy will have a better life ahead," said Ramona. "As hard as the whole journey has been, particularly for him, I am optimistic and hopeful that his tomorrow will have a better outcome for him. I am very grateful Emily is the one I travelled this emotionally painful journey with."
"Through all this, I was fortunate to have Emily as my attorney,” Ramona added. “I will always be grateful that I found in her someone I could talk through the hardest times of my life.”