Urgent Demand for Family Court to Protect Raquel's Life and Fundamental Rights

  • by: Renata Demello
  • recipient: San Mateo County relevant authorities, individuals who have the power to address the issues raised in this case, the San Mateo Family Court Judge overseeing Raquel's case, the ADA, Rett Syndrome Community, Childrens Right's Advocates., California

Every single law that has been the catalyst for family law progress or family court reform is named after a child that was murdered because family court failed them. Children should not have to die so courts can educate themselves on coercive control, and the epidemic of Domestic Abuse felons, who are vexatious litigants and use the court system as a tool to continue the abuse at all cost. It is time to advocate for the living, for those who still have a chance. I am sure the children who have died because their health and life was not prioritized, surely wish we had taken action.

This is an urgent matter and plea to assure vulnerable individuals such as my child Raquel will never become a part of the statistics and a law is never named after her. 

Introduction: I am the custodial mother of three children, Raquel  (12), Giselle (10), and John (8). My oldest child, Raquel was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome and is severely disabled. The current Court-Mandated Visitation poses an imminent danger to her life. The strenuous commute exacerbates her condition, leading to increased seizures and breath-holding episodes. This critical threat could potentially result in a life-or-death situation for Raquel.  Another concern for Raquel's safety is the father's residence located on the fourth floor of an apartment building without an elevator.  Raquel is a 5 feet tall, non-weight-bearing child weighing 80 pounds, who also suffers from dystonia (muscle stiffness), and can experience sudden convulsions. Carrying her four flights of stairs becomes highly dangerous and with potential to result in a fatality. These facts were ignored by our former Judge. We seek your support by signing this petition and spreading awareness about this urgent matter with the hopes the new judge overseeing Raquel's case acknowledges and understands her unique reality. It is crucial that the court reassess the current court-mandated visitation arrangements to prioritize the safety and welfare of Raquel and her siblings. 

Statement of Relevant Facts: In 2014, Raquel was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that affects mostly girls. She is a 5-foot-tall, 80-pound girl, non-verbal but understands everything. The syndrome took away her ability to use her hands and caused her to lose over 20 words she had learned before the age of 1. It is crucial to treat Raquel equally to her siblings, ensuring inclusion and preventing her from feeling excluded or left behind. She relies on me to interpret her body language and eye gaze cues. The fact she is non-verbal exposes her to the grave risk of neglect and substandard care, necessitating unwavering vigilance from both myself and this court.  Raquel faces numerous challenges due to her lack of mobility, confinement to a wheelchair, and non-weight-bearing condition (lifting dead weight). She experiences irregular breathing patterns, hyperventilation, apnea, epilepsy, scoliosis, hip dysplasia, gastrointestinal issues (daily enemas required for regularity), dystonia, bruxism, and low bone density, making her highly susceptible to fractures. 

Her condition demands constant care and supervision. Diapers need to be changed frequently to prevent rashes, and regular repositioning is necessary to avoid sores. Controlled medications must be administered twice a day. I am responsible for lifting, bathing, grooming, brushing, massaging, and dressing her, as she depends entirely on me for all her needs. Raquel relies on specialized equipment, such as feeding tubes, body massagers, chairs, and orthotics, as well as integrated therapies to address her physical and occupational needs. As puberty approaches, hygiene becomes more complex. This is Raquel's reality, a testament to her patience, kindness, strength, and resilience as she faces adversity in silence. 

A Disproportionate Expectation. For over two years, every 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend of the month, we followed a rigorous routine, leaving Incline Village, NV  at 4:00 am, arriving at the Danville Police Station by 9:00 am for the exchange. Exchange lasts 15-30 minutes. However, this is not the end of the journey. There is an additional hour-long drive to Burlingame, where the father resides. Visitation lasts approximately 32 hours. Approximately 45 hours from time of departure to time of return home. This means that at least 28% of the time away from home is spent commuting.  This disproportionate amount of time spent commuting not only leaves Raquel and her siblings emotionally and physically exhausted but also exposes Raquel to significant life-threatening risks. 

Acknowledging Raquel's severe disability is crucial, as her day-to-day life is already difficult. The added demands imposed by court-mandated visitations significantly impacts her health, overall well-being and exposes her to fatal consequences. Expecting her to endure these burdensome and distressing trips is considered abuse, as defined by CA Fam. Code § 6203. (3) To place a person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to that person or to another. (4) To engage in any behavior that has been or could be enjoined pursuant to Section 6320. (b) Abuse is not limited to the actual infliction of physical injury or assault. 

Viewing the situation through the lens of Raquel's severe disability. Over two years, Raquel has endured the grueling experience of spending a minimum of 28% of a 45-hour period confined to a car seat, enduring long and inconvenient trips that disrupt her sleep, and well-being, starting as early as 3:45 am. Pain from existing conditions, such as immobility, scoliosis, and hip dysplasia, coupled with her inability to communicate or reposition herself, intensify her suffering during these drives. The distressing outcomes are relentless seizures, with her body convulsing, foaming at the mouth, and contorting against the car and her siblings. She becomes pale, her lips turn blue, and her eyes roll back, leaving her utterly depleted. She also experiences breath-holding episodes, causing her to weaken and fall sideways, leaving her utterly vulnerable. These horrific ordeals cannot be normalized or dismissed, as they gravely impact her overall well-being. 

Heightened stress, pain, and discomfort impose various complications on Raquel including: headaches, fatigue, and body aches. Seizures pose the risk of inhaling saliva into the lungs, potentially causing aspiration pneumonia. Hyperventilation during these episodes can worsen abnormal brain activity and trigger more seizures, necessitating immediate medical intervention. Permanent brain damage, including stroke, is another possible outcome. Breath-holding episodes exhibit symptoms such as color changes, loss of consciousness, and seizures, affecting cardiac function with the potential for prolonged QT syndrome. Emotionally and psychologically, heightens anxiety, fear, and frustration, and a sense of helplessness. 

Heightened Risks: Raquel's convulsions in challenging environments like the Sierras magnify our concerns. Limited communication, scarce nearby hospitals, adverse weather and road conditions, pulling over in less-than-ideal locations further pose significant risks/danger. The combination of Raquel's vulnerability, unpredictable circumstances in a frequent court mandated visitation plan greatly escalates the threat to her health, potentially leading to severe and fatal consequences.

Dangerous Terrain. Non-Custodial Parent's Residence - 4th Floor Apartment: Considering Raquel's critical medical condition and specific needs, it is unequivocally evident that allowing or ordering visits to her biological father's residence located on the fourth floor of an apartment building, with no elevator, where she must be physically carried while her younger siblings follow, is an outrageously hazardous and morally indefensible situation. This arrangement defies logic, morality and compassion. Carrying her, given her dystonia, height, and weight, epilepsy, is comparable to laboriously hauling an 80-pound, 5-foot-long log up four flights of stairs, that can go into convulsion at any moment's notice, all while ensuring the safety of her 10 and 8-year-old siblings as well. Given her heightened vulnerability to seizures at any moment, the risk of a catastrophic incident becomes even more pronounced. Sibling Distress, and the Desperate Struggle for Safety create an immediate sense of panic in Raquel's younger siblings, Giselle and John. Their attempts to help are hindered by their size, intensifying their agony and sense of powerlessness. 

Inadequate Support and Unreasonable Expectations: Despite my efforts to communicate and the non-custodial parent on our travels, becomes frustrated and leaves before our arrival, leaving Raquel to endure another exhausting trip back to back. He disregards my notifications of being late and insists on inconvenient pick-up locations, adding unnecessary travel time and stress for the children, particularly impacting Raquel's health. He denies proving his ETA at the end of visits. This creates chaos. He drives them to Danville and then back to the peninsula forcing me to be responsible to pick the children up from the Peninsula. This adds at least two hours to children spending in the car.  This pattern of behavior is detrimental and must be addressed. 

The adverse effects on Giselle and John's well-being cannot be disregarded in light of Raquel's condition.Giselle and John's well-being cannot be disregarded in light of Raquel's condition. The demanding commute required by the current court-ordered visitation schedule takes a toll on any child, considering factors like road work, accidents, traffic, and severe weather. It is crucial to prioritize Giselle and John's well-being alongside Raquel's. These long hours in the car, coupled with challenging circumstances, significantly impact their emotional and physical health, leading to anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion. Witnessing Raquel's violent convulsions is horrifying and traumatic for them, as they understand the burdensome demands placed on them and the potential fatal consequences. We have experienced these traumatic situations too many times, and it is putting Raquel's life at risk. 

Non-Custodial Parent's Lack of Cooperation: Despite my consistent efforts to communicate and stress the significance of prioritizing Raquel's health and ensuring the safety and well-being of all children during the court-mandated visits, the non-custodial parent consistently refuses to visit the children in Incline Village. His disregard for their welfare, refusal of visitation opportunities, and absence of empathy raise concerns about his parenting priorities. Instead of making an effort to see the children in their hometown, he chooses to pursue litigation with frivolous contempt charges while demanding the children be delivered to him. 

Mother, Caregiver are Two Distinct Roles: As a mother and sole caregiver for my disabled daughter, Raquel, I face overwhelming responsibilities that require specialized skills and knowledge. The current visitation schedule imposes a significant strain on my well-being, both physically and financially. Spending 8-10 hours driving back and forth each day, totaling 16-20 hours in one weekend, is unsustainable. The court must recognize the challenges faced by caregivers, provide necessary accommodations, protect the ADA rights of disabled children, and establish a more suitable arrangement to ensure the welfare of all children involved.

Loss of In-Home Support Services (IHSS): As the full-time caregiver for Raquel, I face significant challenges in balancing caregiving and pursuing a career. The loss of my IHSS income, resulting from Non-Custodial Parent's inappropriate application in December 2021, has placed me in a strenuous financial situation leading me to rely heavily on my partner, Thomas for support. IHSS regulations limit clients to one case, leaving  the $1,850 I receive in child support, as my sole source of income where a significant portion, approximately 40%, is allocated towards gas expenses required to comply with the visitation order. Family Code Section 4053 emphasizes the shared responsibility of both parents to support their children based on their circumstances and station in life. 

Carseat and Safety Concerns: Raquel has outgrown her current car seat, which is unsuitable for her size and scoliosis. Due to financial constraints and a change in insurance, I cannot afford an appropriate car seat at this moment. Despite notifying the non-custodial parent, he refuses to provide the necessary car seat for Raquel's daily use. The court must recognize the financial constraints and situation I must face and take immediate action to ensure Raquel's safety is not compromised due to the unavailability of appropriate equipment.

This court order should have never been made if the judge abided by the very laws he swore to abide by. Our former judge's rulings disregarded crucial factors, including Raquel's disability, the father's residence without an elevator, and the history of domestic violence that resulted in a felony conviction. These rulings directly violated legal principles outlined in the California Family Code, infringed upon Raquel's rights under the ADA. 

The judge's failure to uphold the laws they swore to abide by has led to years of unjust and absurd rulings. Upon discovering a personal relationship between the judge and the non-custodial parent's attorney, it became evident why we experienced such unjust treatment throughout the years. Thankfully, I was successful in having the judge recused. However, I am apprehensive about potential retaliation from other members of the Family Court System. Regrettably, the attorneys we have engaged have consistently abandoned our case when we make progress towards achieving our goals. This recurring pattern of abandonment has been disheartening and has hindered our ability to secure the necessary support and protection.We are left feeling unsupported and frustrated as each attorney's abandonment sets us back to square one. This recurrent setback only amplifies the challenges we encounter in advocating for Raquel's rights and well-being. 

Urgent Request for Court to Reassess Court-Mandated Visitations: Raquel's life hangs in the balance under the current visitation arrangements. As a mother, I cannot continue to participate in this court order, as it jeopardizes Raquel's safety and places me in a position of "failure to protect." Giselle and John, despite their young age, fully grasp the gravity of the situation. 

The court's immediate intervention is vital to ensure Raquel's well-being, protect her rights under the ADA, and establish a visitation plan that prioritizes the best interests of all children involved. Reevaluating the feasibility and safety of court-imposed car rides and assigning responsibility for visitation logistics to the non-custodial parent will create a fair and balanced arrangement, safeguarding Raquel's life. Our request aligns with relevant CA legal provisions, including Family Code §3011, 3040, 3020, 4053, 6203, 6320, CA Penal Code §11165.6, 42 U.S.C. §12202, 28 C.F.R. §35.178, and the Supreme Court case Tennessee v. Lane, 541 US 509 (2004).

Now is the time to advocate for the living, for those who still have a chance. Let us honor the children who have departed  due to Family Court's negligence by taking action today.

I implore you to sign this petition and stand with us in demanding justice for Raquel and her siblings. Together, we can raise awareness about this urgent issue and champion a visitation plan that genuinely prioritizes the well-being of all children involved.

 We urge San Mateo Family Court, our new Judge, Honorable Reyna, to look at Raquel's case and acknowledge and understand her unique reality. It is crucial that the court reassess the current court-mandated visitation arrangements to prioritize the safety and welfare of Raquel and her siblings. 

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