BLOOMINGTON — A judge ordered parents embroiled in an interstate custody battle to begin the process of setting up telephone visits between the father in Massachusetts and the child, who lives with his mother in Normal, after consultation with the boy's counselor.
In his first hearing after being appointed to the case, Judge Charles Feeney told lawyers for Michael Cadena and Amber Buck on Wednesday that he expects progress in the case that started four years ago when Cadena filed for custody of Mikey, now 4.
"This case needs to move forward and come to a conclusion," said the judge.
Feeney told Cadena's lawyer Adele Saaf that her client's refusal to return to Illinois must end if the case is going to be resolved. Saaf has argued against contempt-of-court findings and sanctions that include six months in jail for Cadena if he ever returns to Illinois.
Earlier this year, Cadena sought to have the case moved from McLean County to Weymouth, Mass., where he has lived since he took the child from Illinois in March 2017 without permission from the court. A Massachusetts judge declined to move the case to Massachusetts and an appeal is pending of that decision.
A similar attempt to move the case to federal court in Peoria also failed.
Cadena spent two weeks in jail in Massachusetts on direct criminal contempt charges imposed by McLean County Associate Judge Lee Ann Hill after Cadena failed to appear in court despite six court orders. He was released after Buck went to Massachusetts and picked up the child.
Feeney granted a request from Saaf to start the process to establish telephone contact between the child and his father. The two have not spoken since the child left Massachusetts with his mother on early October.
Feeney also advised lawyers that the tug of war over the child, that has included posting video of him on social media, must end.
"This child has been a bit of a pawn. What's clear is that the child had no control over the chess game," said Feeney, who took over the case from Hill, who is retiring.
The case initially filed by Cadena has attracted a massive following on social media as people weigh in on the merits of the father's allegations against Buck. Cadena has accused the mother of physically and emotionally abusing the child during the time the boy lived with her.
Videos of a tearful Mikey at the Weymouth police station shortly before he was reunited with his mother drew ire from social media watchers who assumed the boy was upset at the prospect of seeing his mother. Buck's lawyer Tristan Bullington contends the child was exhausted from being passed from house to house by Cadena's relatives in an effort to avoid Buck picking up the child after she was given temporary custody.
The visits will begin after lawyers consult with the child's counselor, who has advised against visits at this time, according to Bullington.
The child's relocation has been "a very difficult, confusing situation,"said Bullington.
Telephone visits, which may include a video component, may not recorded by either parent or anyone else, including counselors for the child who are expected to supervise the visits, said the judge.
The judge agreed with Bullington that a lawyer should be appointed to act as a guardian ad litem on behalf of the child.
Both parents have a history of drug use and lost custody of the boy for periods of time because of drug charges. Buck is on probation on drug charges.
Cadena was given custody of the child in February 2017 and left the state a month later.