North Idaho

Woman loses children to 'World of Warcraft' addiction

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - The Idaho Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court decision to remove custody of three children from a woman who focused more on accomplishing group objectives in "World of Warcraft" than taking care of her own kids in the real world.

The case originated from a Dec. 19, 2010, noise complaint police responded to at the home of the woman, identified in court document as Jane Doe. Court documents said the woman's daughter had begun yelling at her after she slapped her.

When police arrived, they found the house was in disarray, there was not enough food in the home, a butcher's knife was found lying on the floor next to a child's toy, the youngest child had lice and the oldest child had severe tooth decay. Police spoke to the three children, who ranged in age from 4 to 14, who said their mother spent more time playing "World of Warcraft" than taking care of them. The children reported the mom played anywhere from six to eight hours a day, which she also confirmed with police.

Court documents report the woman played the game regardless of whether or not other people were available to take care of her children, and, because she was playing with other people online who depended on her maintaining a certain amount of time online, she chose to focus on playing the game without taking breaks to care for her children

Officials determined the children were in danger and removed them from her home, which was not the first time the children were removed from her custody. In fact, a records check revealed the children had been removed from her custody on three separate occasions when she was living in Washington. In one case, it involved physical abuse by the father against one of Doe's children, but in the other two cases the children were removed due to Doe's failure to appropriately parent her children.

In February of 2011, the court came up with a case plan for the woman to follow in order to retain custody of her children, but, a year and a half after the children were removed from Doe's home and the case plan was agreed upon, the Department of Health and Welfare filed a petition to terminate her parental rights for her three children due to abandonment and neglect. At trial in March 2013, Doe admitted she had not followed the case plan by maintaining steady employment, could not provide evidence of employment, and did not show she was applying significant parenting skills with her children.

Doe argued she had met the terms of the case plan, but the terms had been met within a matter of weeks before the termination trial. She had lived in multiple locations across the Pacific Northwest in the year leading up to the trial but had signed a one-year lease on a home less than a week before the trial started. She had held three different jobs over a year that all ended due to various reasons. According to court documents, Doe said one was a temporary position, another job she quit due to a scheduling conflict and another job she lost due to car trouble. She argued that she'd found a new job before the trial started, but had not started work yet and did not have hours or rate of pay established.

After hearing from Doe, as well as several experts involved in her case, the court ruled that while she had not abandoned her children nor had she been unable to fulfill her duties as a parent, she had neglected them. Doe, the court ruled, failed to follow through with the case plan set by the court after the children were removed from the home in 2010, and that she did not provide a stable home, maintained consistent employment or provided sufficient parenting for her children. The court ordered her parental rights terminated.

Doe subsequently appealed the court's decision on a battery of claims, including an implied allegation that she was disabled because of her addiction to "World of Warcraft", though she added that she had never been diagnosed with any sort of disability due to addiction to "World of Warcraft", even though she was given the opportunity to meet a licensed clinical social worker after the children were removed from the home and was given the opportunity to meet with someone who specialized in video game addiction, as well as undergo a psychological evaluation. When she participated in the psychological evaluation, court records showed she didn't like some of the findings of the evaluation and chose to discontinue the evaluation, going instead to a minister at her church for faith-based counseling, which was inconsistent with recommendations made for counseling in her psychological evaluation.

In the end, the Idaho Court of Appeals upheld the termination of Doe's parental rights, stating that despite multiple attempts by the Department of Health and Welfare to offer Doe opportunities to become a successful parent to her children, her repeated choice was to play "World of Warcraft" rather than to parent her children.

The children, who have not been with Doe for a long period of time, are reportedly doing better now that they are out of the home.