News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, JULY 3, 2005


Supreme Court ruling is a blow to custodial parents

The U.S. Supreme Court finished its session with a decision that should concern parents with court-ordered custody of their children.

The ruling left custodial parents with no redress when police refuse to enforce custodial restraining orders.

As presented to the court, the facts of the case were horrifying.

Jessica Gonzales obtained a restraining order from a Colorado court prohibiting her estranged and unstable husband from coming to her home or making contact with their three daughters. Despite that order, Mr. Gonzales kidnapped the children from his wife's front yard.

Mrs. Gonzales immediately contacted the police. She explained that she had a court order and asked that they bring her children back. They came to her house but refused to help, telling her they might help if the children — aged 10, 9 and 7 —were not back in a few hours.

She called several more times, finally going to the police station and begging that they enforce the court order. Again they declined. Custody disputes just aren't that interesting.

In the end, she contacted the police six times in the space of five hours. They did nothing.

Two hours after her last contact with police, her husband drove to the police station with a pistol and three murdered children.

Unlike most states, Colorado has a law that requires police to enforce restraining orders. In Alabama and most other states enforcement is discretionary. Mrs. Gonzales sued under a federal statute that gives people redress if police fail to take an action to which the person is entitled.

Notwithstanding the mandatory language of the Colorado law, the court ruled she had no entitlement to enforcement. Without that entitlement, she had no case.

Courts issue orders for one purpose: To have them enforced. By undermining the significance of restraining orders, and by giving police unfettered discretion in enforcing them, the Supreme Court dealt a scary blow to custodial parents and to the children who too often end up victims.

Leave feedback
on this or