As the year end approaches and we take stock of all of the remarkable work that pro bono attorneys throughout the city have done on behalf of their clients referred from Legal Aid, we wanted to share with you just one inspirational story. The following inspirational story of just one father doing his best to raise his children despite significant challenges comes from Crowell & Moring’s pro bono newsletter ….
Earlier this year, attorneys at Crowell & Moring agreed to help a father referred from Legal Aid retain custody of his two young teenage children, amidst efforts by the children’s mother to uproot them from their home, neighborhood and schools.
Mr. Byron* was shot in the head about ten years ago, and though the injury impaired his physical capabilities, memory, and speech, it did not stop him from doing a remarkable job raising the children largely by himself since 2008. Indeed, as the Crowell & Moring team of Aryeh Portnoy, Linda Popejoy, and Steve Seiden quickly discovered – and what the D.C. Superior Court judge ultimately found – was that Mr. Byron is a loving, caring and generous parent, that the lingering effects of his injury have not prevented him from doing an excellent job raising and providing for his children, and that it is in the children’s best interests to continue to live primarily with their father.
The only disputed issue in this case was the primary physical custody of the children. For several years before and following the gunshot incident, Mr. Byron and the children’s mother, Ms. Epps,* jointly provided and cared for their children. But when the couple separated in 2008, with Ms. Epps moving to Virginia, Mr. Byron assumed primary responsibility for the children. While he received regular and meaningful assistance from his mother, family, friends, and various home aids, Mr. Byron got virtually no support from Ms. Epps, who went several years without even seeing or communicating with the children. In 2011, however, Ms. Epps expressed a renewed interest in being an active parent and told Mr. Byron that she wanted to take primary custody of the children.
Concerned that Ms. Epps would take legal action to obtain custody of the children, Mr. Byron filed a complaint seeking sole legal and physical custody. The case went to trial. Several key witnesses testified, including Ms. Epps, Mr. Byron’s mother, a probation officer who had conducted a home study, and two of Mr. Byron’s home aids. Mr. Byron took the stand and delivered inspirational testimony advocating for a status quo custody arrangement to allow the children to stay in the neighborhood and the home in which they grew up. Mr. Byron’s testimony established that, notwithstanding his limitations, he was still remarkably proficient at doing the laundry and the dishes, supervising the children, walking/transporting them to school and other places, protecting them from harm, and most importantly, providing them with unconditional love and support.
Following trial, the Court issued an order affirming that Mr. Byron shall have “primary residential custody” of the children, with visitation for Ms. Epps. In support of its decision, the Court said that Mr. Byron “interacts with the children like any (good) parent, that he can and does anticipate and meet his children’s needs, and that he can provide a high level of care.” The Court concluded “the children have done well living primarily with Mr. Byron for six years since Ms. Epps moved out...” and agreed with Mr. Byron’s position that “it is reasonable to infer that changing the children’s primary residence, moving them to a completely different neighborhood, and starting them in a new school would be difficult for them.”
*Names changed to protect confidentiality.