Newsweek Has Shockome Syndrome

It took six years for Genia Shockome to gather the courage to leave her husband, Tim. He pushed her, kicked her and insulted her almost from the moment they married in 1994…Tim called her constantly at work and, after they split up, pounded on her door and screamed obscenities…

Genia is one of many parents nationwide who have lost custody due to a controversial concept known as parental alienation…

[P]arents like Genia keep fighting. “It’s so hard, having my children lost,” she says, her voice breaking. “This was my life­-my children.”–Newsweek, 9/25/06

NY, New York–Two years ago women’s advocates snookered Newsweek into making Genia Shockome out to be a heroine in their article Why Parents Who Batter Win Custody (9/25/06).

I pointed out at the time that the article was riddled with problems and mischaracterizations, and hundreds of my readers wrote to Newsweek criticizing their article. Shockome didn’t lose her custody battle kids because of “gender bias” or underhanded “fathers’ rights” tactics–she lost because she’s so nuts that even the pro-mother family courts were forced to side with the kids’ father.

For this reason, I was surprised to see Why Parents Who Batter Win Custody reemerge recently after it was linked to a new Newsweek article about family law. Two years ago I dissected Shockome’s claims about her case in my co-authored piece Shockome Syndrome. It’s long but I daresay it’s worth the read.

For those who’d like to comment on the Newsweek piece in the discussion section of their website, click here. As of this writing the discussion is dominated by Shockome’s feminist supporters.

Two years ago I wrote:

The Feminist Family Law Movement’s current ‘Custody-Visitation Scandal’ cause celebre is Genia Shockome, a New York mother who in 2003 lost custody of her two children, now ages 11 and 9, to her ex-husband, Tim Shockome. Genia claims that Tim had abused her during their marriage, which ended in 2000. She has drawn support from officials from many branches of the National Organization for Women, as well as from Justice for Children, the Battered Mothers” Custody Conference, Stop Family Violence, and much of the feminist blogosphere.

Shockome”s case gained national attention when she was jailed for 30 days for contempt of court by Poughkeepsie Family Court judge Damian Amodeo in May, 2005. The New York Post reported that Genia, a seven months pregnant ‘Mother of the Year,’ was sent ‘to prison over Mother’s Day,’ and portrayed Shockome as a heroic mother resisting a tyrannical judge. The FFLM, including many feminist bloggers, organized a petition drive to free Genia and to get Amodeo removed from the New York State Matrimonial Commission.

On a superficial level, Genia appears to be an excellent poster child for the types of injustices the FFLM highlights. A closer look at the Shockome case, however, reveals as many problems with the FFLM”s characterization of it as one could take the time to name.

The entire premise of the Genia Shockome story hinges on the notion that Tim battered Genia prior to 2000 and, in repeatedly violating court orders to allow her children access to their father, she was acting to protect them. However, Genia’s allegations of domestic violence and child sexual abuse have never been substantiated in any court proceeding, nor supported by any witnesses. Writing with admirable restraint, Judge Amodeo, whose decisions in the case have been repeatedly upheld by higher courts, noted:

‘In [Genia’s] August 2000 complaint in the divorce action, no mention is made of the domestic violence which Genia later asserted. She claimed that she was unaware that she was the victim of domestic violence; however, such a lack of awareness would not have made her unable to recount historical facts, especially if the severity and frequency of the abuse she alleged were true. Why didn’t she mention the abuse earlier in the case?’

There were three independent custody evaluations in the case, none of which found anything negative of substance against Tim Shockome. The first one called him a good parent, and the other two went as far as to recommend he get custody because of his parenting and because of Genia’s relentless attempts to drive him out of his children’s lives.

The most recent of these evaluators, Dr. Meg Sussman, has a feminist background and worked for Pace University’s Battered Women’s Justice Center. Sussman, who specializes in domestic violence and child abuse cases, recommended that Genia have only supervised visitation until she could accept the children’s father’s role in their lives.

In two in camera (in chambers) interviews conducted with the Shockome children on May 27, 2003 and January 22, 2004, neither child recalled any physical altercations between their parents, despite Genia’s claims that her children had witnessed Tim’s alleged violence against her. Moreover, neither child expressed any fear of Tim.

Genia’s only support for her contention that she had previously been battered came from the FFLM domestic violence advocates who testified in her trial. Yet none of these ‘experts’ had ever spoken with Tim Shockome, and had no evidence of Tim’s abuse except for Genia’s assertions.

In trying to deny the children their father, Genia also made the obligatory child sexual abuse allegation. Tim consistently and adamantly denied this accusation, and Child Protective Services investigated these claims and concluded they were unfounded.

Two of Genia’s own witnesses testified that, in hundreds of visits made to Tim’s home, they never observed any inappropriate or sexually provocative conduct on the part of the children. Dr. Sussman concluded that Tim had not sexually abused the children, and noted that the children did not display any symptoms consistent with children who have been sexually abused.

Ina Berg, the children’s therapist, did not observe any sexualized behavior in the children. The children themselves did not speak of any inappropriate behavior exhibited by the father. Genia alone professed to see the children’s behavior as indicative of sexual abuse, and none of the neutral experts in the case supported her interpretation.

Genia’s ‘evidence’ of her husband’s sexual abuse of her children was that Tim ran the back of his fingers on the backs, arms, and legs of the children. However, during the trial, Linda Meeker, the nurse-teacher at the children’s school, testified that Genia herself had admitted that she also had engaged in the same innocuous method of massaging the children.

The mother’s side also alleges that Timothy harassed and threatened Genia through excessive phone calls and letters, and that Timothy was observed banging on Genia”s door while shouting expletives at her. An alleged witness to the door incident, Rebecca Watson, was supposed to testify on the mother”s behalf and confirm Timothy”s alleged violent outburst; however, Watson inexplicably failed to appear in court on two separate occasions to corroborate this incident. The Court noted in its findings:

‘While it is acknowledged that the number of telephone calls made by father to the mother may have been outwardly excessive, these calls were not unjustified in light of the mother”s persistent refusal to abide by the terms of the Court order with respect to the father”s right of telephone contact with the children…[the calls] were not made with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm the mother, but were a direct and logical consequence of the mother’s lack of compliance with specific Court directives…Even if the father engaged in some rude conduct, that does not rise to the level of a family offense, particularly when viewed in the context of his frustration with the mother”s longstanding interference with his contact and involvement with the children.’

Newsweek pictured Genia holding up a large drawing apparently drawn by her children, and explained:

‘Parents like Genia keep fighting. ‘It’s so hard, having my children lost,’ she says, her voice breaking. ‘This was my life–my children.’

What Newsweek ignores, though it’s right there in the court records, is that it is Genia who refuses to visit her own children, despite ample opportunities to do so. When asked during the trial why she had not visited her children, Genia claimed that she could not afford to pay the supervised visitation program’s fees. These programs were originally available to her free of charge, and later cost all of $25. At the same time, Genia had just purchased a new television set for her home.

In the type of exchange typical of Genia’s behavior throughout the case, Genia then claimed that she hadn’t paid for the television set–it was her boyfriend who bought it. However, the boyfriend, Aja Butler, later testified that he had no knowledge of how the TV set was purchased.

Genia refused to visit her children for two long periods prior to the May, 2004 decision, including the period which included her daughter’s birthday in November of 2003 and also Christmas of 2003. At one point, Genia refused to visit her own children for a stretch of nine weeks. The law guardian–another neutral party–said that Genia had explained that she didn’t visit her kids as part of her ‘strategy’ in the case. Genia Shockome claims her children are ‘her life,’ but apparently they weren’t even as important as a new TV set or a custody ‘strategy.’

Nor did Genia’s professed concern for her children lead to a desire to provide for them financially–she failed to make court-ordered child support payments until it was involuntarily deducted from her pay.

Genia and her FFLM allies attempt to portray her as a weak, naïve Russian immigrant. However, Genia earned a college degree in Mathematics at an American university, had a very high grade point average, and works a well-paid technical job at IBM.

Genia’s supporters have touted her as ‘Mother of the Year,’ but this deceptive ‘award’ has nothing to do with Genia’s parenting skills. As the New York Post explained, Genia was ‘named mother of the year by two victim-advocacy groups in 2003 after battling in court with her husband.’

The FFLM portrayed Judge Amodeo as a bully for jailing Genia for contempt in May of 2005; however, the transcript of the hearing shows that Genia interrupted Amodeo on over 50 separate occasions. Amodeo bent over backwards to accommodate Genia, and only held her in contempt after countless warnings. Genia appealed Amodeo’s holding of contempt but a four judge panel of the New York Supreme Court unanimously upheld Amodeo’s decision.

Genia and her supporters contend that Genia has been the victim of ‘gender bias’ and a judge with a grudge. This explanation fails to account for the fact that Amodeo’s decision was based on the opinions of many neutral experts, both male and female, some of them with feminist backgrounds. The ample legal help Genia has been provided by domestic violence organizations allowed her to appeal the case, and apparently all of the justices on the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate division are also biased against Genia, because they unanimously rejected her appeal in June. The court wrote:

‘We discern no basis, on this record, to interfere with the Family Court’s findings, inter alia, that the mother lacked credibility…or that the opinions of her [domestic violence] experts were of little value, since none of them had ever spoken with the father…The Family Court concluded, among other things, that the mother’s animosity toward the father and her attempts to undermine the children’s relationships with him were harmful to the children and rendered her the less fit parent…Exercising our independent review, we find that the Family Court’s determination is supported by a sound and substantial basis in the record.’

In fact, though Genia’s bankruptcy case had nothing whatsoever to do with her family law matter, she even managed to annoy the bankruptcy judge, Cecelia G. Morris. Morris–no surprise–noted numerous contradictions in Shockome’s statements, and decried Genia’s ‘refusal to accept any order or ruling that is in conflict with her demands.’

Genia Shockome’s supporters expected Judge Amodeo–who was presented with no evidence of any violence against Genia beyond her own statements–to simply take her word for it, and allow her to destroy the bonds between the Shockome children and their father. Genia claims that a video filmed at the visitation center which shows her kids jumping up and down on a couch actually shows them masturbating–an interpretation which no other participant in the court proceedings shared.

To this day Genia accuses Tim of all of the following: being a pedophile who got sexually aroused by changing his daughter’s dirty diapers; sexually abusing his children; masturbating in front of his children; taking his children to a sexual store; having a ferocious sexual appetite for women; having a ferocious homosexual appetite for men; being an abusive father who “beat the kids very often, 2-3 times a day” when Genia and Tim lived together; being a wife-beater; secretly beating his former wife who had a secret miscarriage; beating Genia so she almost had a miscarriage; intimidating five of Genia’s witnesses; insurance fraud, identity theft; immigration fraud; defrauding the federal government of $60,000; stealing; embezzlement; extortion; bankruptcy fraud; almost driving over Genia’s neighbor’s little son; and of violating a protection order over one million times. To say that Genia Shockome lacks credibility is like saying Attila the Hun had bad table manners–what judge in his right mind would take this woman’s word for anything?

Below are links to the court documents in the Shockome case:

To read the Court Order from May 10, 2004 where the judge gives sole custody to Timothy Shockome and grants Genia visitation rights, click here.

To read the decision handed down on June 13, 2006 by the New York State Appellate Division, Second Department upholding the May 10, 2004 Court Order, click here.

Genia”s motion for leave to reargue an appeal from an order of the Family Court, Dutchess County rendered May 10, 2004, is denied by the New York State Appellate Division, Second Department on August 18, 2006. To read the court document, click here.

To read the Bankruptcy Court decision rendered by Judge Cecelia G. Morris on May 11, 2006 denying Genia”s request for a stay pending appeal, click here.

To read the transcript of the May 5, 2005 court hearing where Genia was found in contempt of court and sentenced to jail time after interrupting Judge Amodeo over 50 times, click here.

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