Are Massachusetts family courts responsible for Jeremy Fraser tragedy?

Salem, MA–Eight-year-old Jeremy Fraser is not expected to live because his mother, Kristen A. LaBrie, refused to give him chemotherapy for his cancer, according to police reports. Several months ago doctors said Jeremy would probably live–today, because of the lack of treatment, doctors say his chances of surviving the cancer are down to 10%. “He’s declining,” said Jeremy”s father Eric Fraser. Fraser is seeking hospice care for Jeremy. “I feel like my son already has his wings.” The media are focusing on the mother”s failures in this tragic story here and here. But LaBrie may not be the only culprit here–Massachusetts” gendered family courts may bear equal blame for this tragedy. This will become clear as Fathers & Families seeks further details.
DSS removed an older child by another father from LaBrie”s custody due to neglect, according to press reports. And Jeremy was the subject of a DSS investigation in 2005. Read more here. Did these events occur before or after the award of custody to Kristen? If before, it would appear that the default action of the family courts  — giving custody to mothers  —  took precedence over serous warning signs about Kristen”s fitness. Fathers & Families is continuing to investigate the order of events. After winning custody, Kristen allegedly peppered Fraser with verbal and physical threats, and later filed an action in court to terminate his parental rights. Jeremy was found by the police wandering the streets in 2006. Mom appears to be particularly prone to conflict, including to what the Salem News called, “a pattern of domestic disputes at LaBrie’s home,” involving her boyfriend and her landlord.  The Salem News concluded, “Police and court documents paint a picture of a woman in an unsteady existence.” Yet she retained custody of Jeremy until the recent developments that threaten Jeremy”s life. Must a child be in danger of death in a mother”s care before the courts will consider either shared custody or custody to the father? Fathers & Families has innumerable members who would say “yes.’ As long as gender bias and gender stereotypes persist in the family courts, children will continue to be victimized in some cases by being put into the care of less-fit parents. In fairness to Kristen, it is not easy to be the sole parent of a seriously ill child. Not only has Jeremy suffered from cancer for the past year or two, but he is autistic. And it is not clear at this point whether the dad is a poster-boy for fatherhood. All the more reason why the courts should award shared custody  — so that each parent can be the child”s safeguard against failure by the other parent. And if the court finds that shared parenting simply will not work for a couple such as this one, it needs to pick the custodial parent who will do the best job, without gender bias or preconceived stereotypes. There is a long record of questionable mothers being given the benefit of the doubt, while men seeking custody receive the opposite treatment, sometimes with tragic results. Readers may remember the case of Massachusetts father Wayne Cann, who petitioned for custody of his three daughters, warning of the violence of his ex’s boyfriend Robert McDermott. Cann gave up when he learned that a court-ordered change in custody would be almost impossible to win. In August 2007, his predictions came tragically true as McDermott killed the ex-wife and himself, while severely wounding two of the three daughters. Read more here. In another highly-publicized case, then seven year-old Kaili Warrington-Sims was starved down to 29 pounds and imprisoned in a bedroom by her mother and her mother’s live-in boyfriend before being rescued by her father, Daniel Sims. The couple had spirited the girl around New York State and then to Florida to deny Sims access. Sims struggled through a maze of bureaucratic indifference and hostility to get to his daughter. He arrived just in time–the girl would have lived only a few more weeks in her condition. Jeremy Fraser is now in the sole custody of father Eric Fraser, but the move by the Essex Probate and Family Court appears to be too little, too late. We will keep you informed as we learn more details. Meanwhile, let us know what you think below.

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