When parents don't agree

by Judy Hodgson
Editor and Publisher

According to public records, 708 couples filed for divorce last year in Humboldt County. Most of those new filings resulted in some sort of resolution -- an agreement -- regarding common property and the custody of children.

But what happens when married couples (and many who were never married) split up and cannot agree what's best for the children. Or worse, what happens when some parents use their own children as weapons against each other?

That's when the court steps in.

Increasingly, in Humboldt County and elsewhere, court intervention means the appointment of a special advocate for the children, called a guardian ad litem. This guardian investigates he-said, she-said claims and makes recommendations to the court. These recommendations carry great weight when it comes time for the judge to make decisions about custody and visitation rights. And any time a judge makes a decision, there will be a winner and a loser, those happy and those disgruntled.

This month's cover story, "Children of Divorce: Who speaks for them?" is a result of a Journal investigation into claims made by some parents who are decidedly unhappy with the system, in particular with the court officer, the guardian ad litem.

As a result of this story, Judge John Buffington, who handles most child custody disputes, made an offer to accept even anonymous complaints from parents who felt they have been mistreated by the court system or a court officer. What that process will be remains to be seen, but Buffington's offer is a positive gesture to reach out to those who feel disenfranchised.

There is always a challenge in selecting art to illustrate a story such as this. Calls start coming in from people who don't want to be quoted much less photographed. And besides, it's really a story about the legal system, not a single parent or child.

We started with some courtroom shots -- the judge and people milling around in the hallway. And we also went to the clip art books for a generic sad child and a pair of hands.

But when it came time for a sensitive illustration for the cover, we knew just who to call: local artist Linda Mitchell.

Linda studied art at San Jose State University and Otis Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles. She worked as a graphic artist and art director in L.A. until she moved to Humboldt County in 1992.

When she showed us her portfolio, we hired her as a graphic artist. Her first day at work was April 26, 1992, when the Journal was still on the third story of a very old Victorian in Old Town Eureka. That was the day of the big Ferndale quake. We paused while the building swayed and the streetlights bobbed up and down -- and Linda went right back to work.

She has worked for us part time, during deadline crunch, until last year when she gave herself full-time to her No. 1 passion -- oil painting.

Linda Mitchell's work is on exhibit at Ambiance Gallery and the Galerie Rouge in Eureka.

The North Coast Journal Table of Contents