Edmonton Sun

January 13, 2001

Clayton Giles left his mom a year ago

By MINDELLE JACOBS -- Edmonton Sun

The mother of the Calgary teen who's starving himself because he doesn't want to live with her must really miss the pre-Internet days.

Not so long ago, the on-going child custody and access battle she's been having with her ex-husband would have had a limited audience - squabbling lawyers and stern-faced judges trying to make sense of it all.

Now, thanks to a publicity stunt launched by son Clayton Giles, 14, and his Web site (www.legalkids.homestead.com), the whole world knows about the family's dirty laundry.

Clayton, as you probably know, is the boy who began a hunger strike Jan. 1 because he wants the courts to recognize his dad - not his mom - as his legal guardian.

In effect, he won his battle a year ago. Although his mother, Marnie Harrison, had custody of Clayton, the teen ran away from her home last January and moved in with his dad. He's been there ever since which just goes to show that no matter what a court document says, no judge can compel a teenager to live with one parent if he wants to live with the other.

I wade into the muck of this family dispute warily, knowing that despite all the letters and court orders Clayton has posted on his Web site, there is probably much that we don't know.

It is clear, however, that this hard-headed teen is no fan of his mother's and that he feels his father can do no wrong.

Clayton remembers an idyllic early childhood (up to age four) on an acreage with four dogs, three horses, three donkeys and two goats.

Then his parents separated and everything changed. At first, things weren't so bad. Clayton and his sister saw their father, Eric, every day and got to "make all the noise we wanted," Clayton writes on his Web site.

Then his mom won sole custody and had access stopped. There were too many rules at mom's house so Clayton's marks dropped and he began getting into trouble at school.

The court battle continued and Clayton's dad was jailed several times for hanging around the school to say hello or wave at his son.

Clayton ran away from home - and over to dad's - on three occasions.

The first time, in May 1999, he just stayed for the day. The second time, five months later, the cops showed up and asked him where he wanted to live.

The teen chose his dad and the police wisely left. Clayton returned to his mother's the next day but didn't stay long.

In January 2000, he ran away for the final time and has been with his father ever since even though his mother has legal custody.

No one has dragged him kicking and screaming back to his mother's so it appears that while Marnie won the legal war, she lost her son in the process.

On paper, Clayton belongs with her. In reality, she lost the war long ago. What's troubling, though, is how Clayton paints his mother as the villain and his father as almost a mythical hero.

It makes you wonder whether the hunger strike and Web site are simply impromptu passionate protests by an unhappy teen or if Clayton was subtly influenced by other forces.

Whatever the case, he makes a good point when he advises kids to judge their parents' love by whether the custodial parent will allow kids to see the other parent.

"Kids seldom have any control of their lives when their parents divorce," he writes.

We all know Clayton is right. Divorcing parents who use their children as weapons to get back at each other reap what they sow. The real victims are the kids.

At this point, the custody order isn't worth the paper it's written on, says University of Alberta law professor Leonard Pollock.

"A 12-year-old has some say. At 14, the kid will decide where he's going to live and no court is going to force him to live somewhere else."

The only other way is to "cut the child in half," as Solomon proposed, he quips.

Sadly, we're no better at solving family problems than we were in biblical times.

"You can make all the laws you want and you're not going to change human nature," says Pollock.

Clayton can tell you all about that.

Now if only bickering parents everywhere would learn something from his experience.

Mindelle can be reached by e-mail at mjacobs@edm.sunpub.com.
Letters to the editor should be sent to letters@edm.sunpub.com.

Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.