Legal Help For My Son Aden

My name is Stephen Dukes and I have the best son a father could have. His name is Aden and I'm writing this on his behalf. I live in Portland Oregon with my soul mate Sonya and our young daughter, Aden's younger half-sister, Aloe. They are pictured below. Aden currently lives in Michigan.  

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My son Aden has been an inspiration since his birth on May 6, 2010. He is 10 years old and I think he has more courage than anyone I know. In December 2020 while Sonya, Aloe and I were visiting Michigan for long fought for parenting time, it was courageously revealed by Aden that he is being verbally and physically abused by his mother. There is now an open and ongoing investigation by Child Protective Services categorized as level two. The degree of this abuse, which has just come to light, spans years. Aden has only ever lived with me part time. I suspected that Aden was having some issues at his mother's home, however his mother has been extremely good at keeping me in the dark by influencing all of me and Aden's communication. Since Aden lives in Michigan and I live in Oregon, there is much that escapes my attention. Aden has been instrumental in bringing his abuse to light. He has been brave and I am honored to write this letter for help for him and for us. I am very proud of my son for coming forward and telling his story and I intend to keep retelling it until he finds the much needed help that he surely deserves. 

My challenge in this has been to tell this story out of love and not out of anger and frustration. When I was 10 years old I was completely certain of my mother's warmth and love, such is the experience of many children. Aden has not been able to find such reassurance from his mother. So much so that while visiting Aden in December, during the time details of his abuse were being uncovered, Aden felt threaten enough being at his mothers home that he ran away. Fortunately he did not get far and we were able to find him. This event speaks volumes of the type of treatment Aden is receiving at home. I do not know a 10 year old child that loves his mother dearly and still feels compelled to run away in 20 degree weather. To me, this is the most frustrating part of Aden's dilemma. I love my son, I love being a father and I want nothing more than to be with him. Aden wants very much to be with me as well. There has always been an abundance of space and opportunity for this to happen, however, since his mother does not agree, we all have to endure her abuse. 

Any and all attempts I have made to support and communicate with my son since 2015 have been regularly met with denial or deceit by his mother. This behavior has been going on since Aden was 5 years old. I have called again and again only to be met with a call block. I have flown multiple times to Michigan just to see him which were unsuccessful. As Aden became older I started sending letters, of which there are  many that he has never read. When he was 9 years old I purchased him a cell phone. His mother smashed it. I have made countless attempts to reason and talk to his mother. The responses I receive are aggression, denial or indifference. To then learn that Aden is being physically and verbally abused along with all of the frustrations of rejection and deceit, I have struggled to find the words until now. Aden has helped me find them. 

When I first became a father I never thought that I would have to fight so hard just to have a conversation with my son. To make matters more difficult I continue to fight against a current of  systemic issues in all of my court interactions. The mediator assigned to my family's case, supports Aden's mother and many of her abuses. They even fail to acknowledge the abuse even though the claims have been substantiated. The only reason I can think of for this, is that in the state of Michigan a mother is favored above all else in matters of custody. It has never been my intent to wrestle my son away from his mother. I want only to be involved in his life and for him to be in an environment where he can thrive. It’s because of this I am looking for help.  Help to alleviate my son's pain and support him in the best ways that I can. 

The longest I have gone without talking to Aden has been eleven months.  Two and three months of no communication was common place and was forced on us. I have filed multiple motions in court to change this situation over the years. Currently  there is a parenting order in place that allows me to call Aden once a week for 5- 15 minutes. The phone calls are all audited and controlled by his mother and usually end with his mother hanging up the phone before our conversations can even begin. I can also visit 3 times per year for seven days. I have fought long and hard for such a short amount of time. My requests to see my son more have always been denied. The motions I file in court receive the same response. We simply need a better attorney.  

There has been some progress made. Now that CPS is involved Aden and his mother are required to attend counseling. There are also services in place  but Aden and his predicament need more attention. This was all brought about by Aden who finally found the courage to speak up about what was happening to him. 

Since Aden was able to tell his story our family has an opportunity to file a new motion. The funds we collect will be used immediately in an attempt to change parenting time and custody, for attorney fees and court costs that we continue to incur in our ongoing fight, and for professional therapy for Aden. Aden and our family will be eternally grateful for him to be in a loving home where he can thrive and be himself. Thank you for reading this and thank you for your support. 

I asked Aden to write down some things that he would say to a judge if I could get him a chance to speak. Below is his response.

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If you would like to know more about me or have questions I have also provided my website below. 

https://www.stevedukesimprov.com/ 


My partner Sonya was gracious enough to write out the events that led to us discovering Aden's situation. Because I am so close to it, it has been difficult for me to write this story.  I am very grateful for Sonya’s addition. Please keep reading if you would like to learn more. 

……………...


Ever since I have known Stephen, I have known a man trying to get in contact and have a relationship with his son. For many months, Stephen could not reach his son, Aden, at all because Aden’s mother was blocking his phone number. Stephen set alarms on his phone to call at noon every day in hopes that something would change. He wrote letters that he wasn’t sure Aden would ever get. He sent gifts, hoping they would be received but not really knowing. In 2018, Stephen sent Aden a phone with his number plugged into it and all the child protections set up. Amazingly, Aden called and they Face-timed. For a while it was wonderful to see the joy they both had in finally being able to communicate. After a few weeks though, Aden disappeared again. The phone Stephen sent wasn’t reachable and neither was his mother’s phone, as usual. One day out of the blue, Aden called from his mother’s phone. He told his father that his mother had broken the phone he sent him out of anger.

Working with the court system doesn’t seem to be easy for anyone, let alone a black man who lives in a different state than his son. It certainly has never felt like anyone wants to help foster the relationship between a boy and his dad. On the contrary, it has only seemed the opposite. Despite this, Stephen continued to reach out and try to work with the system and his son’s mother so that they could arrange parenting time, mostly to radio silence or court indifference. In November 2019, Stephen decided the best way to reach anyone would be to go and be in Detroit for a month. He called and texted Aden’s mother a month in advance to let her know he would be in town for that time. She allowed a last minute movie. If it weren’t for Stephen learning Aden’s basketball game and practice schedule, that would have been the most time he got to spend with him.

It was clear that the court needed to be more involved if Stephen was to be able to spend any significant quality time with Aden. Stephen filed for a renewed custody agreement and parenting time. The paperwork didn’t go through until January, a week after Stephen returned home to Oregon. Stephen promptly dropped everything and flew back out to Michigan to attend the hearing. It was there determined that Stephen would be granted 3 visitation times per year and a weekly phone call at 5pm Friday afternoon. They would not allow Aden to visit in Oregon, so 3 times a year in Michigan was all that Stephen could feasibly afford. The court ordered phone calls, if the phone was answered at all, have often occurred in locations with loud news blaring in the background or angry yelling, sometimes at Aden.

The first parenting visitation was set for March, right as the Covid-19 pandemic was coming to light. The airline canceled Stephen’s flight to Michigan. This was communicated to Aden, who was disappointed but understood.​ ​The second parenting time was to be for a week in July. When Stephen informed Aden’s mother of this, she had Aden sent to Texas for all but the last 5 days of the month, knowing that Stephen and my daughter, Aden’s little sister, could be born that week. All of this should have been communicated with Friend of the Court to keep a record of all the times Aden’s mother has tried to intercept her son’s relationship with his father. Unfortunately, it was not. The machine of law that we operate under only sees what is reported.

The next parenting time was set for the end of December/beginning of January, starting a day after Christmas. Stephen, myself, and our baby daughter went out together so that Aden could meet his sister. Aden was denied seeing her on video chat, as all video calls have been denied, so this was the opportunity for them to at least meet. 

The events that follow are disturbing and could be triggering for some people. 

The third night of Stephen’s parenting time, Aden cried for 3 hours straight repeating over and over again that he was scared with no explanation of why.

The next day, Stephen continued to ask Aden why he was scared and finally Aden broke down and started talking. He said his mother was abusing him. She hit him with his school computer. She threw a glass candle holder at him. She whipped him with an extension cord and pushed him against a wall and choked him. These are only some of the physical manifestations of the abuse. He also explained cruel and unusual punishment such as standing with books being piled on his arms and being punished if he dropped any. He said he was locked in a closet and that she would leave him alone from 5am to 6pm when she went to work.

CPS was called and it was more than enough to start an investigation. They advised we take Aden to the emergency room to be looked at by a doctor. The doctor substantiated Aden’s claims. He had whip mark scars on his legs, bruising, and complained of pain in his back and hands. The doctor told Aden he should stay away from whoever did this to him.

Stephen was advised by CPS that he had the right to keep Aden from his mother if he felt that he was in any danger. Of course, Stephen chose not to return him. He filed an emergency custody hearing upon the recommendation of CPS and found a lawyer. Aden’s mother also found a lawyer and filed a motion for an emergency custody hearing as well since Aden had not been returned.

Aden was overjoyed to stay with his dad. Despite what he has faced in his young life, he is resilient and strong. He was willing to leave all of his things behind. All he wanted was to never go back to his mother’s house again. He expressed this very clearly.

On Friday afternoon at 4pm, Stephen received an email from his lawyer saying that a motion had been filed and Stephen had to return Aden by 6pm that day or else he was in violation of a court order. With only 2 hours notice, he was to be sent back to the place he feared more than anything. Stephen could face jail time if he didn’t comply.

We were forced to take a sobbing and begging 10-year-old boy back to the mother that was abusing him.

The police were called to escort and be a second pair of eyes on the situation because, for obvious reasons, Aden’s mother can’t be trusted. She committed a crime in the past where she and her friends attacked a girl and beat her up. When the police arrived, Stephen, Aden and the cops all walked towards the door to the apartment. His mother was not there to meet him. Instead, Aden’s 20-year-old half-brother and older cousin were at the door and while they tried to coax Aden in, he wasn’t budging. He was shaking his head no. When they tried to get closer, he backed away. The cops then approached the door and asked if Aden’s mother was there. The cousin was suspicious about it, saying that she wasn’t supposed to say anything. At this, the cops turned around and said that if she wasn’t there then Stephen had the right to take Aden back with him.

He stayed with us through the weekend. During all this time, there was a point when the CPS worker asked if the mother could speak with the child. Stephen said yes if Aden wanted to. His mother never called.

On Monday, the same order as Friday came through. Stephen could face criminal charges if Aden was not returned within 2 hours that day. Stephen’s lawyer said not to call the police to help. She said it could “look bad” at the hearing. Instead, Stephen was told he could drop Aden off at his mother’s lawyer’s office. Again, she would not be there to receive him, but sent her older son to pick him up. We parted with incredibly heavy hearts.

Minutes after arriving back at the temporary Michigan home, Stephen received a call from Aden saying that he had ​​run away​​.​ Stephen immediately called his lawyer asking what he should do, he didn’t know if he would be a criminal if he went and got his own son. Thankfully, she said to go pick him up. Again, the cops had been called and Stephen explained the situation. Aden’s aunt and brother, who were supposed to be watching him, came to the gas station too. The cops tried to get Aden to go with them but Aden said he wanted to go with his dad. It was clear that again, he desperately didn’t want to go back to his mother’s house.

The cops allowed Stephen to take Aden back with him. Aden was a little shook up by the intensity of running away, but was mostly just happy to be away from his mom’s house and back to the safety of his dad.

The hearing was set for Wednesday morning. Because of the pandemic, it would be online. On Tuesday, the threat of taking Aden back came again, but Stephen’s lawyer said this time that it could be ignored since the hearing was the next day and the last time he ran away.

In Aden’s mother’s motion, she tried to further limit and sanction Stephen and Aden’s time together as well as cut off any possibility for sibling bonding between Aden and his half-sister. 

Stephen’s lawyer called and said that the woman representing as Friend of the Court was not kind to him. As I mentioned before, he didn’t report previous noncompliance with court orders from Aden’s mother which meant that, despite all the attempts to have peaceful communication over the years, he looked absentee. CPS did substantiate the abuse claim and the investigation stayed open, however both motions for emergency custody were thrown out and the current parenting time was still to stand. This meant Aden, again, had to go back with less than an hour notice. This time for good until Spring Break, Stephen’s next parenting time.

Not surprisingly, Aden did not take the news well. He sobbed and pleaded. It was heartbreaking. 

This time his mother would be at her apartment to receive Aden. When they arrived, Aden refused to get out of the car. He kept his seat belt buckled and, in tears, repeated over and over that he wouldn’t go back. She came out and hung back by her apartment door. Stephen called her and said that Aden didn’t want to go and that maybe she should come to the car. She came over and tried to convince Aden to get out of the car. She jerked him to try and scare him. She asked why he didn’t want to get out and Aden told her she was scary. She said “I know that’s what they’re telling you to say.” Aden yelled “no!” He knows his own truth despite her attempts to manipulate him. This horrific scene was recorded. She called her lawyer and asked him what she should do since she was being filmed and Aden was refusing to go with her. She ended up walking away for the time being. Aden was relieved when she left.

Stephen was on the phone with his lawyer as well and both lawyers said that ​Stephen had to carry Aden​ into her house.

Aden’s mother started filming the scene herself. She filmed as Stephen, carrying Aden, told him it was going to be ok. He was going to help him. He would keep fighting.

Stephen carried Aden into his mother’s apartment; Aden literally clawed and screamed at the doorway trying to get away.

At that point, she had quickly shut the door and so all I knew is that the three of them were in there and I couldn’t see anything. The cops were called again to come and help. Once Stephen and her were in there alone it would be her word against his and that wasn’t good. The cops showed up and went in to check on the situation which was the only way that Stephen was able to leave the building.

Aden does not deserve any of this. He is currently living with his abusive mother, alone. The court said that he cannot have a cell phone unless his mother allows, which of course, she does not.

We need to help him.

I have never made a GoFundMe before and wouldn’t do it now except that Aden needs help. We already have lawyer fees and will have many more. If it’s possible, Aden needs his own lawyer so the courts can see more clearly what is going on. This is not a custody battle between exes. This is a ten-year-old boy’s fight for potentially his life.

He was brave enough to tell the truth and yet he landed straight back with the person he was terrified of.

This is not okay.

Aden needs justice and to feel the safety that ever child deserves. Every day that he is with her, he is subject to her manipulation, lies and cruelty. The system meant to protect him is failing him. CPS is doing their best, as far as we know, but they are overworked and underfunded. The soonest they were going to visit Aden was over 2 weeks after these events. The reality is that Aden is a little black boy living in Detroit. Apparently, this isn’t unusual enough there. It seems they would prefer everyone to just move on even if Aden is not ready to do that.

We know that this is appalling and we believe there are people who want to help, so we are asking for help.

If you’re able to in these difficult times, please donate; even the smallest donation helps tremendously. Please share. We may need an army to help but I believe there is an army out there.

Thank you.

If you'd like to know more about me, my website is www.sonyadavis.com; I would be happy to answer any questions. 

Sonya

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Steve Dukes 
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Portland, OR
Adrian Dukes 
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