Facebook Postings by Mom Lead to Custody for Dad, but Was It Fair?

This article and video raise some issues about the decision-making process of family courts (The33TV, 10/22/10).

It’s all about a child custody case in the Dallas area.  It seems that the mother and father were duking it out in family court over who was better suited to be the primary custodial parent of their five-year-old son.  Ultimately, the dad prevailed, but the way he did it is what raises the issues.

It seems that Facebook is what did the job.  Specifically, his ex was a bit too free with her Facebook postings. According to the story, the father’s attorney Michael Wysocki “says pictures posted to the site painted a picture of a partying mother, with wild friends. He says the mother was seen in a bikini, with another woman pretending to lick her breast. He says the woman’s boyfriend posted pictures smoking and brandishing a semi-automatic rifle. The woman’s friend, who testified on her behalf posted a picture kissing another woman.”

As Joseph Conrad wrote, “The horror!”

Let’s see, the fact that Mom was photographed wearing a bikini was used to prove her parental unfitness.  Do I have that right?  Apparently I do.  So was the fact that she posted a photo of two women kissing and another of a woman pretending to lick Mom’s bikini-clad breast.  And, if we can believe the article, so was a photo of her holding a lighted cigarette.

I’m not making that up.  Of course, all of that is (a) perfectly legal and, with the possible exception of smoking, (b) perfectly safe.  And yet we’re asked to believe that it’s reasonable to hold that behavior against the mother in deciding custody.

Now, I must admit that other factors enter the picture.  For example, another photo showed Mom’s new boyfriend posing with a semi-automatic rifle.  Of course that too is perfectly legal and, since this is Texas, practically required.

I won’t go into detail about the truly warm feelings Texans tend to harbor for firearms of all sorts, but suffice it to say that offering gun ownership by a boyfriend as evidence against a mother getting custody surely plows new ground.  Men in Texas who don’t own guns may be suspect, but not those who do.

But what all that led to was the judge ordering Mom to be tested for drugs, which turned up positive.  The article doesn’t say what drug was found, and I’d call that important.  To me, prescription medication or even pot would be one thing; heroin or cocaine would be another.

Still, using illegal drugs certainly qualifies as a legitimate factor in considering custody, so eventually the right decision may have been made.

But the process is disturbing.  Apparently Mom liked to party when the child wasn’t in her care, and that fact led the court to order a drug test.  It all carries the strong scent of the nanny state in action.  Gasp!  Wearing a bikini and smoking a cigarette at the same time!  Friends clowning for the camera!  What is the world coming to?

I’ve written a couple of pieces about Paul Millar’s book “The Best Interests of Children: An Evidence-Based Approach.”  Needless to say, there’s nothing in it correlating child wellbeing and appropriate poolside attire.

But I’ve also written about a New York lawyer, Chris Gottlieb who complained about judges’ micromanagement of parenting practices, such as telling parents not to order Chinese take-out and to take the child to the park every day (not six days a week, mind you, every day).  Now we have photos of two women kissing being used to limit a mother’s custody.

One final oddity.  As the article and video make clear, what the dad’s attorney and the judge were concerned about was mostly the company Mom was keeping.  The article uses the word “wild” to describe her friends.

What I find interesting is that, while the pair were married, if the dad had tried to limit her relationships with those same people for the same reasons, it would have been called domestic abuse by pretty much everyone in the DV industry.  That happens to include the President of the United States whose website includes links to definitions of domestic abuse that in turn include trying to keep a person from associating with friends.  As such, it could have been used to get Dad arrested and removed from all access to his child, his home and his personal belongings.

So isn’t it strange that the same behavior, when done by a man while married constitutes domestic abuse, but is evidence of his superior fitness as a parent if done afterward?

Thanks to Don for the heads-up.

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