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"There is nothing more important than protecting children. In the face of evil and adversity, I'm going to stand up and fight," said Theresa Jenkins, MI attorney.
DETROIT, MI, November 22, 2021 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Time and time again, Theresa Wozniak Jenkins has seen children come forward to say they are being abused, and no one – not their family members or the court system – believes them.
Growing up in an abusive household herself, Jenkins knew she wanted to spend her life working to prevent this from happening to others.
"We tell children, 'If you are being hurt, tell an adult.' But, when children confide in an adult and no one will listen, then who do they trust?" she said.
"I don't understand how anyone can look at a child who's suffering and not do anything about it. It's incumbent upon the adults in the room to make sure children get the help they need."
Jenkins knew she wanted to study law since the fifth grade. After going on a field trip to the 51st District Court in Waterford, her teacher made arrangements for her to shadow Judge Phyllis McMillan for a day.
"Judge McMillan brought me up on the bench with her, and I got to see – for the first time – that bad people who do bad things can be held accountable. That's when I knew that's what I wanted to do with my life," she said.
Jenkins went on to earn her pre-law/political science degree at Michigan State University before studying at the Charleston School of Law in Charleston, SC. Today, she is a lawyer specializing in civil litigation, complex custody and divorce cases.
"There is nothing more important than protecting children. The most vulnerable in our society deserve our most gentle selves. In the face of evil and adversity, I'm going to stand up and fight," said Jenkins, an attorney in Livingston County.
Each year, nearly 700,000 children are victims of abuse and neglect in the U.S. with about 2,000 of these cases resulting in death. According to a four-month investigation by Deseret News, in many family court cases, rulings are made where children are placed in the care of an abusive parent.
The investigation showed that, in the past decade, at least 98 children in 40 states were killed by a parent after a family court allowed him or her unsupervised contact with the child. In all of these cases, the court was previously informed of the parent's violent history.
Statistics like these break Jenkins' heart. That's why many of the cases she takes on involves getting children out of dangerous home situations and into the full-time care of a protective parent.
In a case Jenkins is currently working on, she is representing the father of a 9-year-old girl, who is trying to gain sole legal and physical custody. Jenkins said this young girl reported, amongst other terrifying accounts, that her mother dragged her around by her hair and pummeled her face into the ground after an argument in the car.
"She even saved chunks of her hair that she said her mother ripped out of her head as proof. This was all reported to Child Protected Services, but because, we believe, the mother works as a contract CPS lawyer and is a well-known litigator in the community, nothing is happening."
Jenkins said the mother is well-versed in complex custody matters and, because CPS case workers know her, they believe her and initially refused to interview any witnesses, look at evidence, or hold a forensic interview with the child. Since this report, however, CPS made a finding – after demands for accountability – that the mother did abuse her children. But CPS is still refusing to remove the children from the mother's care – even after viewing video evidence, provided to them, of the mother beating up her current husband in April 2021. The call from the Tuscola County Sheriff's Office went uninvestigated by CPS with the matter rejected on intake by the call center. It remains unclear whether the prosecutor in that county was provided the same video, as was testified to at the last hearing in the custody case, but there has been no investigation and/or arrest sought by the Tuscola County Prosecutor.
"This case resonates with me because I, too, spent many years trying to understand why things happened to me the way they did," Jenkins said.
"This little girl's strength and ability to stand up in the face of all these adults failing her – except her dad and stepmom – is unreal. For two years, she went from adult to adult, and nobody helped her. But I'm working to change this trajectory and be someone who listens to her and makes sure she has a better life."
Equitable Treatment in the Court System
Unfortunately, cases like these are not uncommon. And Jenkins knows from experience that both mothers and fathers can be perpetrators of abuse and neglect.
"Women are more likely to get away with abuse because of our presumptions in society about mothers – that it's not possible for mothers to be this evil. More often than not, law enforcement and judges believe the women over the men. But men can be the victims too, and women can be the abusers," she said.
"Protection comes from looking into the facts, not assuming a person is a good parent or bad parent because of their sexual or gender assignment. What is best for children and families is, and should always be, a case-by-case determination."
That's why one of Jenkins' priorities is to fight for the equitable treatment of fathers in the court system. And, in one of her first cases after becoming a lawyer in 2010, she did just that.
Her client, Sean Gallagher, was fighting to gain custody of his now 19-year-old daughter, Carleigh. His ex-wife was making false allegations against him and wasn't adhering to the court-approved visitation arrangement of every other weekend.
At first, Gallagher just wanted to be able to see his daughter when he was supposed to. But, when he found out Carleigh had been calling 911 because his ex-wife would get black-out drunk while she was in her care, he knew he had to get his daughter out of that living situation. And Jenkins made that happen for him.
"Theresa is a pit bull and a rock star in the courtroom. Because of her, I became a full-time father, almost overnight. My daughter is my world. I owe all of it to Theresa; none of this would have been possible without her. I don't even want to think about what would have happened to Carleigh if it wasn't for her," said Gallagher.
"Theresa always advocates for the child – making sure they have the best care possible. And that's what she did for us."
Carleigh said her life has changed for the better "in every single aspect" since her father gained custody, and, about three years ago, she chose to stop talking to her mom completely.
"My mother brainwashed me and alienated me for a very long time. It was a really hard life growing up. I was physically and emotionally abused – beaten with the metal part of a belt, pinata sticks and baseball bats. At the time, I thought it was normal," she said. "The first night after my dad got custody, I melted into his arms. My dad is my absolute best friend; he's a fantastic dad. With him, I've never had to worry about anything."
Going Above and Beyond
For Jessica Galvin, another one of Jenkins' clients, she had been raising her child on her own for more than eight years before her ex-husband decided to fight for custody. After receiving a job offer in California, Galvin decided to move, and her ex-husband, who had never cared for their child, agreed. But then, five months after she moved, he changed his mind.
"My job was a promotion and I was moving to a more expensive area, so I was getting a pretty significant pay raise. So, my ex decided to fight for custody in order to get child support from me. He told me, 'It's not that I want the kid. I just want you to pay me.' That kicked off a three-year-long nasty, difficult and expensive custody situation," she said.
The court granted the father full temporary custody during litigation. Galvin said her ex would emotionally abuse their child, throw objects at the wall right next to her head, and would go days without feeding her.
"One time, my kid got someone's phone from school to call me, saying, 'Mom, I'm really hungry.' So I ordered a pizza to be delivered to the school so she could eat," Galvin said. "She would tell me, 'I want to come home.' And I couldn't do anything about it until the courts made a ruling."
Galvin said her previous lawyer didn't do anything for her – so she switched to Jenkins about two years into the custody case. Jenkins hired a private investigator and helped Galvin build a case against the father – which, ultimately, led to Galvin gaining back custody in the summer of 2018.
"My stepfather was also abusive in several ways, and I will always carry the memories of that. I know the emotional toll that took on me, and it changed the way I parent. I wanted an attorney who could understand what I had been through and would help ensure that my child didn't go through the same thing," she said.
"After Theresa became my attorney, she held my hands, looked me in the face, and said, 'I promise you, this is not your case' – meaning, this wouldn't end the way my situation as a kid had. And she kept her promise. She fought like absolute hell for me. She went above and beyond, and, honestly, without her, I never would have gotten my kid back."
In another more recent case out of the Tuscola County Circuit Court, a local father acquired custody of his 5-year-old son because of Jenkins.
The mother of the child had filed a falsified PPO against him. She not only denied him any time with his newborn son until a DNA test was completed – but she also denied him the access to even get the DNA test. The matter became even more urgent when the father learned that his ex was not appropriately feeding the baby, who remained at or below birth weight for six weeks.
His attorney at the time got him 50/50 legal and physical custody when his son was 7 months old, but did not attempt to obtain full legal custody. But, after new concerns of further abuses, he hired Jenkins.
The father, who wishes not to be named, asked his mother, LoAnne Russian, to speak on his behalf. She said, "Before we hired Theresa, life was pure hell. No other lawyer would fight for 100% custody; they didn't think they could win. But Theresa did. She isn't afraid of anyone, she's a fighter and she doesn't give up."
"My son is the best father you could ever imagine. Before, my grandson didn't have a regular sleep schedule, he didn't brush his teeth, and he was constipated all the time. Now, we no longer have those problems, and my grandson has a much more consistent and happy life. He truly is the nicest, sweetest little boy, and we just want to keep him that way."
Justice for Children
Jenkins said, for her, there is no greater joy than ensuring a child remains in a loving, caring and stable environment.
"When I win cases like these, it proves to me that justice is real. Every time I save a child from an abusive situation, it feels like I'm saving myself a little bit too," she said.
Jenkins is in the midst of starting a nonprofit law firm to ensure that people who can't afford to litigate parental alienation cases – and other expensive cases – are able to be represented by the top lawyers. She is partnering with Lisa Kirsch Satawa, attorney and founder of Kirsch Daskas Law Group in Bloomfield Hills, to help make this a reality. The name of the organization, trademark pending, will be the Justice Lawyer League, and Jenkins is currently working to obtain 501(c)(3) status.
"It shouldn't take thousands of dollars to get your child out of a bad situation. Only 1% of people can afford this type of litigation – 10% if they mortgage their homes. Through this nonprofit, I want to give more people the chance to fight for the custody they deserve," she said.
Jenkins is licensed to practice law in Michigan and South Carolina. She is a member of the American Bar Association, the Michigan Bar, the South Carolina Bar, the Livingston and Oakland County Bars, and the Dedicated Family Court Committee – a subcommittee of the Family Law Council. Additionally, she is a South Carolina certified mediator, a Guardian ad Litem for children, and an editor of the Michigan Family Law Journal.
Theresa Wozniak Jenkins a Michigan, South Carolina attorney and is fighting to get children out of abusive homes. It is time to shed media attention on the system that isn't listening and give voice to help these kids.
Theresa Jenkins and Bloomfield Hills attorney Lisa Kirsch Satawa, founder of Kirsch Daskas Law Group are in the midst of starting a nonprofit law firm to ensure that people who can't afford to litigate parental alienation cases – and other expensive cases – are able to be represented by the top lawyers.
To see if Jenkins can help you with your complex custody matter, please call the Kirsch Daskas Law Group, PLLC at 248-792-3060.Follow Jenkins on social media at email@example.com.
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