Moveaways: Another Scholar Looks at the Evidence. Are Children Helped?

Denver, CO–Still another scholar has concluded that moveaways hurt children in most cases.

Dr. William G. Austin of Denver reviewed 77 research studies and summarized them in the January, 2008 issue of Family Court Review. He concluded, “Methodologically sound survey studies show strong effects on child outcomes due to residential mobility following divorce. The measurement of child adjustment problems . . .  ranges from greater frequency of school behavior problems with younger children to lower academic achievement, greater teen pregnancy, and lower psychological well-being in older children.’

Kenneth Waldron looked at over 70 published studies and reached similar conclusions in the Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in 2005.

As did Sanford Braver in the Journal of Family Psychology in 2003.

As did Richard Warshak in the Family Law Quarterly in 2000.

Unfortunately, Austin also wrote, “It would be unsound to use the research reviewed here as a basis for a presumption or bias against relocation of a child . . . ‘  Why do the psychologists usually oppose presumptions that would work well for most children? Because they hold the illusion that every case can be analyzed in depth by wise students of human behavior such as themselves. Lawyers file motions. Surgeons operate, and psychologists analyze.

They overlook the real world of crowded courtrooms, apathetic judges, no money for psychologists, and incompetent attorneys (if there is any attorney at all). In the real world, a presumption that works for most children is an absolute necessity.

In truth, there is already a presumption at work  —  but it is the wrong presumption, the one that says the custodial parent can leave with the kids. Even if not written into the statute book, it is very real in the courtrooms of many states. We need to replace the wrong presumption with the right one.

If there is no de facto presumption already in effect in Massachusetts in favor of moveaways, please explain to me the outcome in the case of Pizzino v. Miller:

Mr. and Mrs. Miller have two sons. Mrs. Miller began an affair with Mr. Pizzino. After awhile, it was discovered and led to a divorce. Despite her misbehavior, Mrs. Miller was awarded physical custody of the children – no surprise there. Over the next year or so, she acquired a few contempt citations for interfering with Mr. Miller”s access to his boys. After awhile, she married Mr. Pizzino. There was only one problem: Mr. Pizzino was active duty military and was stationed in South Carolina.

The new Mrs. Pizzino applied to the court to move to South Carolina with the two boys. She wanted to live with her new husband, of course. The GAL (a psychologist retained by the court) found that Mr. Miller was a great dad and the children were closely bonded to him. The psychologist recommended against the relocation, and the family court denied the moveaway.

Now enter the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Under crazy Massachusetts case law, the Appeals Court found that mom”s history of interfering with dad”s access to the children was not relevant (!). Also, the children”s strong relationship with dad was not a good enough reason to prevent the move. Therefore, the family court judge”s ruling should be overturned and the kids should go to South Carolina.

Somebody smarter than I please explain to me how this is good for the boys. They have lived their entire lives in Massachusetts and will now move to a military base in South Carolina. The research literature shows that the move will probably be very tough on them. They will live with a man whom they barely know and whom they probably don”t like since he is partly responsible for the break-up of their parents” marriage. Their mom will be distracted by her new marriage. They will need to make new friends in a military culture that is foreign to them, in a new community where their New England accent will be considered strange, in new schools that probably will be inferior.

Here”s the icing on the cake. The military will almost certainly move Mr. Pizzino from time to time, meaning that the children face not just one move, but a series of moves.

Oh, and one detail:  they will rarely see their father, whom they love, partly because of the distance, and partly because mom has a history of obstructing their time together.

Here”s the best part: under Massachusetts” perverted law, all this is done because it is allegedly in the best interests of the children. Go figure.

Click here to read the Fathers & Families bill in the Massachusetts Legislature that would tighten up on moveaways. We pushed this bill through the House a few years ago, and this year we hope to get it through both chambers.

Together with you in the love of our children,
Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.
Executive Director

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