Unusual issues define custody battle
The custody battle over a 4-year-old Cuban girl is filled with unusual circumstances.
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER | Miami Herald
His 4-year-old daughter needs to go to the bathroom. In a public park. He doesn’t want to let her go alone. But he doesn’t want to go into a women’s restroom, or take the girl into the men’s room.
Fathers face such predicaments every day. But to this man, it’s more like a test, and he can’t afford to fail. A child welfare caseworker, who will help decide whether he’s fit to rear the girl, is watching. The entire visit is being videotaped.
To complicate matters, he’s a Cuban national whose country has spent almost a half-century telling tales about the evils of American life. He’s been in Miami six weeks. His daughter barely knows him.
‘‘Of course I know what to do with my child,’’ he said in Spanish at a court hearing this week, ``but in my country.’‘
The case, which held its first public hearing Wednesday after a year of closed-door sessions, is filled with cultural nuances and political overtones.
At the center of the dispute: a girl whose caseworker says cries at night, gnashes her teeth, and sneaks into her Cuban-American foster parents’ bed out of fear she will be taken from them. At age 4, her only memories are those of the well-heeled Coral Gables family that has raised her for more than a year.
The names of the girl, her father, and her caregivers are not being revealed in this article to protect her privacy.
The picture of the girl emerging in court is that of a happy, even precocious child who has never doubted that her caregivers, and their children, are her real family.
She goes bike riding with them. She attends summer camp. She is petrified her life will be upended.
‘‘She does not want to go to Cuba,’’ said psychologist Miguel Firpi, who is working with the girl. ``She becomes very, very hyper. She grinds her teeth at night. She wakes up with nightmares.’‘
Said Julio Vigil, another psychologist in the case: ``When [her birth father] tries to give her a kiss, most of the time she rejects it.’‘
Anita Bock, who oversaw Miami-Dade’s child welfare programs in the 1990s, said heart-wrenching custody battles are not rare, though they are seldom easy.
This dispute, however, includes some real curveballs: