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Mistreated children need social workers, not lawyers

Tyler Groves, Opinion Writer
November 14, 2012
Filed under Opinion

November 2007, 12-year-old Faith Carberry climbed into her mother’s new BMW after school with her sister, brother and classmate. Like many times before, her mother was noticeably — as she described it in the Irish Independent — blackout drunk.

The mother had been banned from driving at the time after having two DUIs. Carberry’s father, Tommy Varden — a wealthy 70-year-old businessman — paid for the BMW. He gave her mother the car as a gift, knowing she wasn’t supposed to drive with her alleged history of chronic alcoholism. He said he was led to understand there would be a different person actually driving the car.

Midway through the ride home, Carberry’s mother crashed the BMW, resulting in the deaths of Faith Carberry’s sister and classmate. Faith and her brother were severally injured.

Five years passed before Carberry — with her grandfather — sued her parents for physical and psychological damage.

Cases like this shed light on the legitimacy of children being able to sue their parents. Some see it as giving severely neglected children a bit of power.

The only problem is when children don’t have the knowledge and experience to handle or understand that power. It’s the same reason they can’t vote, drive or marry.

Despite the popularity of lawsuits, they aren’t in any way a quick fix to most issues. This is why problems with parenting should first be solved through professional assistance that has families’ best interests in mind, like Child Protective Services.

Take, for instance, the many celebrity children who have sued their parents for mistreatment of their wealth.

Since people under the working-age limit can’t be paid, the parents of child actors and celebrities get whatever their kids might make. What has repeatedly happened is parents are accused of using the money earned by their children on things not in the child’s best interest.

These cases were often surprisingly legitimate, showing that mistreatment can be done to a child in such a way that requires financial compensation.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Gary Coleman, who starred in NBC’s “Diff’rent Strokes,” sued his parents, receiving only $1.3 million of the $18 million he earned from his fame and acting. Coleman later filed for bankruptcy, listing debts of $71,890 and assets of $19,850. If Coleman’s parents hadn’t misused his money, he might have been able to spend his adulthood  living easy.

Macaulay Culkin earned $17 million from the “Home Alone” movies. In a lawsuit, his parents fought over the fortune during a lengthy divorce. In the end, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge David Saxe fired the parents and put the family’s accountant, Billy Bretner, in charge of the money until Culkin turned 18.

However, these cases received much media attention, which spawned a handful of imitators and gave children the idea they could sue their parents for not being good parents.

This is exactly the idea that came to two 20-year-old siblings who sued their mother for $50,000 in emotional stress due to bad mothering, according to ABC News. The Illinois brother and sister said their mother gave them inappropriate holiday cards with no money in them, only cheap — non-material — sentiments.

“Such alleged actions are unpleasant and perhaps insensitive, and some would arguably fall outside the realm of ‘good mothering,’” the judge said in the court’s ruling, “but they are not so shocking as to form a basis for a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

This is the point when minors suing their parents becomes an absurdity. It’s not a child’s right to get gifts from their parents, only a privilege.

It is, however, a child’s right to grow up in a safe environment, something Faith Carberry didn’t have when she was 12 and living with her mother. But Carberry’s lawsuit against her mother isn’t going to make her life any better.