In this case, a mother’s parental alienation of two children cost her custody of them. Here’s the New Jersey appellate court’s ruling upholding the trial court. If you want to read it, block out some time; it’s 100 pages long.
But at that, it’s shorter than the trial court’s ruling that ran to 109 pages.
In many ways, it’s just a run-of-the-mill custody case in which the mother tries to hijack sole custody by claiming sexual abuse of the children by the father. In others it’s a case history in the many uses and abuses of family courts by litigants.
The sheer numbers are alarming enough. For example, the divorce and custody case took four years to complete, if indeed it’s complete yet. That included some 70 total days of testimony and dozens of expert witnesses. When all was said and done, the pseudonymous father had custody of the two girls; the mother was ordered to psychotherapy and was given only very limited, closely supervised visitation thereafter. Into the bargain she was ordered to pay the father over $1.5 million in attorney fees and an additional $300,000 plus in expert witness fees. That comes to over $1.8 million and seems to be some sort of record in the annals of Garden State divorce law.
So in that way, “run-of-the-mill” scarcely describes the case.
I suppose lesson No. 1 from the case is “however bad custody cases can be, they’re made that much worse by the presence of money.”
Father and mother are apparently well-known ophthalmologists, which means they’re pretty well-to-do. Or at least they were before the litigation started. Indeed, it’s one of the appellate court’s many points that the mother’s conduct of the case so depleted the family’s financial resources that, by itself, it constituted an assault on the best interests of their daughters who, after all, continue to need their parent’s support.
The appellate court called her conduct of the custody matter a “vindictive rampage” that ran the gamut from repeated false allegations of child sexual abuse to a blizzard of unnecessary and time-consuming motions to the employment of numerous “expert” witness the trial court found to be unqualified, “incompetent” and biased.
Oh, and let’s not forget the questioning of the children about their supposed abuse. That was repeatedly conducted by the mothers’ witnesses, expert and lay, in violation of the protocols established years ago by the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse in conjunction with the American Prosecutor’s Research Institute.
The children were asked leading questions by interviewers who had allowed themselves to be tainted by receiving the mother’s views about the claimed abuse ahead of time. Of one of the mother’s better experts, a psychologist, the appellate court said she “was not and could not be a neutral observer.” The trial court said she was “evasive” and “deliberately false” in her testimony.
Yet another expert witness called on behalf of the mother had her testimony excluded altogether, so shoddy was her interviewing of the girls and so complete was her disregard of the interviewing protocols which the court said she “deliberately circumvented.” That expert was Dr. Joyanna Silberg whose conclusions about the validity of the abuse allegations the trial judge described as “not remotely supported” by the evidence.
So much for the good news. Mom was far worse. Among other things, her false allegations managed to separate the girls from their father for at least ten months during which time she tried to convince two mental health professionals to diagnose him with borderline personality and narcissistic disorders, even going so far as to inform one that another had already done so. This the appellate court called “diabolical.” Trust me, courts don’t usually use that term for parents, even bad ones.
Her over ninety conversations with the children in which she coached them in the details of the abuse led the appellate court to say she’d engaged in “continuing, coercive and suggestive manipulation of the children.” The court went on to describe her as “not credible,” acting “in bad faith” and referred to her repeatedly “deceptive conduct.”
All of that, the trial and appellate courts both saw, was nothing less than a blatant and wholly dishonest effort to deprive the children of their father.
In short, mix the usual ingredients of a bitter custody battle and heat over a hot fire of money and this is what you get – an abuse of the children, abuse of the courts and abuse of – in this case – the father. From the hair-raising descriptions, it’s obvious that the trial court got the outcome right, but at what a cost!
And that’s odd because the two started off at least somewhat amicably. They hadn’t been married too many years before problems arose and the mother consulted some dozen divorce attorneys in the early years before Dad finally filed his complaint for divorce.
Before that, they’d separated and had a custody agreement under which he got the kids three days out of every week. During their entire marriage, there were no allegations of abuse by Dad until he filed for divorce and – Presto! – out they came.
As I said, except for the extremes to which Mom went, this is sadly not that unusual. We’ve seen it all before.
But one (of many) thing that got my attention was the appellate court’s description of the events leading up to Mom’s getting her restraining order against Dad.
The pair were still married, but separated; Dad had the children for a time and returned them to Mom’s house.
On September 25, 2005, father brought the children home
after a visit. Shortly thereafter, a dispute arose over whether
he should put the children to bed alone because M.M. (one of the daughters) was upset and reluctant to let mother leave the room. The parties agree that, after some argument between them, father touched mother’s face and kissed her just before leaving, telling her the marriage was “done,” though mother recalled the action as more aggressive than did father. According to mother, M.M., who had been standing near her when father left the house, assured her later that night that she would “protect” mother from father.
Mother promptly obtained a temporary restraining order
(“TRO”) prohibiting father from contacting her or the children
on the basis of that incident.
Say, that was easy. Dad took Mom’s face in his hand, kissed her and said something like “this marriage is done.” And that’s grounds for a restraining order under which he can’t see his children, nor they him, for ten months.
In this case, Dad had enough money to fight both his vindictive ex-wife and the divorce and custody system that asks nothing of a mother who wants her husband removed from his children’s lives -no evidence, nothing that remotely could be called a threat, no physical violence, nothing.
Needless to say, most fathers aren’t in the financial position to do what this one did – dig his heels in, hire the best lawyers he can find and fight hard in the hope that the truth will prevail, as it ultimately did.
But watch for this, coming to a website near you. Part of the anti-dad crowd is a small group for whom every allegation of abuse by a mother against a father is the truth. (Here’s a description of the group Glenn Sacks did earlier this year.) Never mind the lies, the deceptions, the manipulations of children. Never mind the multiple investigations by courts, mental health professionals, the police or child welfare agencies that show the claims to be unsupported. Never mind subjecting little girls to repeated pointless medical examinations. And never mind the fact that the allegations never arise during marriage, but only when child custody is on the line.
No, to the “believe the woman” group, all of that is just fluff. What matters – the only thing that matters – is one vindictive woman’s say-so.
So don’t be surprised to find this case added to their already lengthy list of those in which “abusive fathers get custody.”
Thanks to David for the heads-up.