PLEASE NOTE: This blog is a bigotry free zone open to all persons, regardless of age, race, religion, color, national origin, sex, political affiliations, marital status, physical or mental disability, age, or sexual orientation. Further, this blog is open to the broad variety of opinions out there and will not delete any comments based upon point of view. However, comments will be deleted if they are worded in an abusive manner and show disrespect for the intellectual process.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Sometime in the Summer of 2013, Jennifer Verraneault, a family court reform activist, contacted me and asked to meet with me to discuss family court reform.  Her partner, Jerry Mastrangelo had been engaged in a lengthy court battle to see his three triplets towards whom he had inexplicably been denied access.  

A year prior, she had taken the free Guardian Ad Litem class for the State of Connecticut and had been able to obtain certification despite not being a lawyer or having any background as a mental health professional.  In fact, to my knowledge, I wasn't even clear that she had a College degree.  I had also tried to sign up for that class, but the CT Judicial Branch had refused me admission, perhaps because I did have a college degree.
We met at Middletown in a local restaurant and discussed her friend's case and many other issues related to family court. This was not an unusual situation for me since I had a blog on family court abuse and the end result of my work was that many people wanted to speak to me, either in person or online.  

At the time, I didn't think that there was anything special about that meeting that made it any different than any other meeting with a victim of the family court system in Connecticut. However, as it turned out, that meeting was just a harbinger of more challenging and exciting times to come. Unexpectedly, my work on the blog, and the work of other activists throughout the state including Cheryl Martone of CT Concerned Parents, Joan Kloth-Zanard of PASIntervention and John Clapp of the Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut, had led to the point where the people of the State of Connecticut were ready for change and improvement within the CT Family Court system.  

Of course, much of this activity I was unaware of since, as a writer, my work is very isolated. Further, I am not and never have been a shared parenting advocate, and much of the impetus for this work arose from the father's rights movement. It came along with iniatives for reductions in child support obligations as well as alimony, of which I was only vaguely aware.  

To be honest, I was a latecomer to the field of family court reform and so I only had part of the picture. If you had asked me,I would have only had a very vague understanding of the difference between joint parenting, which we have as the law here in the State of Connecticut, versus shared parenting, which was what these reformers were hoping to implement. Subsequent to our meeting, I tried to hash out the definitions with Jennifer in emails we exchanged online, but I don't think I truly understood where the differences lay.  

One point I was firm on: I absolutely opposed Richard Gardener's Parental Alienation Theory which I knew family court judges here in Connecticut regularly used to deny fit mothers access to their children when they complained of abuse.  All these issues and more were the source of much debate between Jennifer and me and the many other advocates who came on board our revolution in the months to come.  

The first sign of the impact Jennifer Verraneault and her cohorts would have was the passage of a bill to establish a task force to investigate the wrongdoing that had been going on in the CT Family Court System. It was entitled "Task Force to Study Legal Disputes Involving the Care & Custody of Minor Children" and met in the Fall of 2013 and on into January 2014. The only citizen participants appointed to the Task Force were father's rights supporters Jennifer Verraneault and retired Judge Thomas Weissmuller. The Report of the Task Force and its Recommendations was issued on January 31, 2014.  

It is now January 2017.   

Looking back on that event, it is my conclusion that father's rights interests hijacked and misdirected the Coalition of organizations and individuals that led this family court reform movement. When family court activists such as Jennifer Verraneault approached me in the Summer of 2013, they indicated that they were more for father's rights, but that they were open to my perspective as a mother's rights advocate.  They appeared willing to consider the serious issues related to questions of abuse, and downplayed their focus on shared parenting and PAS in favor of discussing the due process abuses that occurred in family court and the corruption of the family court vendors.  

As a result, I became willing to tolerate the fact that many of the fathers who had stepped forward to lead the movement were, in fact, known to be abusers themselves who were quite unwilling to listen to anything other than father's rights propaganda. As time went on, and as the movement progressed, these father's rights people became increasingly intolerant and vitriolic towards those advocates who spoke out about the needs of mothers and children and began to exclude them from the Coalition.  

At one point, Dan Lynch, a well known advocate for family court reform, edited the testimony of family court victims into separate videos and posted them online with the caption underneath "parentally alienated" even when the speakers weren't talking about that subject and wouldn't have agreed to such a definition if they'd had a choice.  

Still, the Coalition between mother's rights advocates and father's rights advocates remained in place despite father's rights people having the upper hand.  

In fact, I went to the Battered Mothers Custody Conference where I heard our advocacy within the Coalition touted as a mother's rights achievement. Yet, at the same time, the National Parents Organization, a father's rights group that used to be called more honestly Fathers and Families, boasted that the work of the Coalition was one of their great achievements for the year.  

My real concern in regard to the outcome of the Task Force of 2013-14 is that father's rights people skewed the dialogue and in the course of doing so harmed and undercut the achievements of the task force.  

The source of the problem lies in the father's rights obsession with Parental Alienation Syndrome.  

When I began working with the Coalition, I was unaware how deeply Jennifer Verraneault and her cohorts were invested in this concept.  However, recently I did locate an article written at the time by Jill Egizii of Syndicated News which would have clued me in, had I seen it.  Egizii states re Jennifer, "Ms. Verraneault has organized a group of Connecticut families affected by parental alienation, along with local legislators to change the way in which family court identifies this form of child abuse early in the legal proceedings as well as educating schools and the community of the long term psychological effects of alienation."  

The article then continues to go on and on about parental alienation.  I doubt if mother's rights advocates involved in the task force such as Anne Stevenson, Sunny Liberti, and Keith Harmon Snow saw the work of the Coalition or the Task Force as being an endorsement of PAS theory in any way shape or form.  The fact that Jennifer Verraneault was going behind their backs and declaring otherwise tells you about the nature and extent of her deception.

The obsession with parental alienation as a mental illness led influential Coalition members to pressure the task force to view the problem of family court abuse solely as a mental health problem. And of course, the subtext of that kind of theorizing is that the Family Court System has a woman problem, because as we all know, only women end up being accused of mental illness or PAS as a means to discredit their allegations of abuse. I assume this is because for father's rights people crazy, loony women are always the problem whichever way you look.

Unfortunately, this kind of explanation for the problems of family court is woefully inadequate.  

During the testimony on January 9, 2014 one family court litigant after another came up to speak about the financial exploitation of family court vendors, the denial of fundamental due process rights, the failure of the Family Court system to take into account litigants' Civil and ADA rights, the failure to obey The CT Practice Book, CT Statutes or case law.  There was particular concern in regard to GALs taking advantage of the system to charge tens of thousands of dollars and drive litigants into bankruptcy.  

Yet somehow, in the final report submitted to the Connecticut General Legislature, all of these matters were eclipsed by commentary on the mental health of litigants as the source of the problem. If you want to talk about blaming the victim, this is a very healthy example, and it took place with the full cooperation and collusion of the father's rights people.    

To understand how this happened, it's important to look more closely at the Task Force report. Special Act No. 13-24 charged the Task Force to investigate the role of the GAL and the AMC in family court disputes, to investigate compliance with the friendly parent factor as embodied in CGS 46b-56c(6) (a veiled reference to PAS), to investigate whether the state should adopt a presumption of shared parenting, and finally to investigate the issue of costs related to family court vendors. In addition, the final sentence of special act 13-24 states that such a study "may" include recommendations.  I repeat, "may" not "shall" which is a rather weak directive.  

So did the task force act responsibly, obey its mandate and provide a clear and insightful report on these matters?  

The answer is a forceful "no".  

The Task Force simply abdicated its responsibility and failed to follow through with its mandate. Instead, what the Task Force of 2013 did was cut and paste 2 pages of conclusions from the report of former Governor Rowland's Commission on Divorce, Custody and Children which was written in 2002, pretty much a decade prior.  This meant that all the work of the participants in the task force--the many experts and professionals who came in to provide testimony and insight into the problems troubling family court, the 60 or so members of the public who came to testify regarding their personal experiences, the 450 individual correspondents to the Task Force--was all ignored and swept under the rug while the insights of over a decade ago took precedence.  

The remaining 15 pages of the report are filled with detailed recommendations. So the members of the task force pretty much blew off their obligation to pinpoint the problems of family court and then regaled the Connecticut General Assembly with 15 pages of recommendations that the Assembly had clearly indicated wasn't a priority!  How can you possibly provide solutions when you haven't yet adequately defined the problems?

Just as a side note, during the last few meetings of the task force when members were writing the report, retired Judge Thomas Weissmuller, the other citizen member, simply dropped out of the task force without comment.  I presume because he didn't want to be associated with the travesty which was represented by the task force report.

You may think cutting and pasting on old junk instead of writing a proper report isn't a big deal, but in fact, it is a big deal.  Without a study clearly defining what the problems are and providing clear examples of how and why the Judicial System isn't functioning properly, it is literally impossible to come up with effective, clear cut solutions.  Unless the State Legislature has a clear idea of what has gone wrong, how can it possibly take steps to repair the damage.  It would be like trying to fix a car without knowing what's the matter with the engine.  It would be impossible!

What is more, the difficulty with repeating the Governor's Commission report is that we are living in an entirely new day.  The solutions and problems of the past are not those of the present.  

The Governor's Commission, true to its time, failed to be self reflective or insightful and engaged in extensive victim blaming. As with father's rights people, its primary focus was to blame mental illness for the problems of family court stating, "a small minority of parents engages in persistent conflict because of anger, characterological or mental health problems, or the force of personality." How easy it is to just blame those crazy people (women) for causing all the problems!  It gives you an open and shut excuse for not making any changes or implementing any meaningful reforms.

Unfortunately, since that time, the number of cases with serious conflict is no longer a minority--if it ever was--and has been speculated to include up to 10,000 cases per year if statistics provided by the CT Judicial Branch are correct.  In the face of such major, systemic problems, labeling everyone mentally ill while ignoring all the other well documented factors, comes across as a way to evade the real issues.  What it amounts to is one great, big copout!  

So why did this happen, do you think?  

My overall impression is that as far as father's rights people are concerned there is no need to investigate what is wrong with family court.  They think they already know what is the matter.  For them the problem is parental alienation, and again, for them the only solution is twofold, i.e. 1) statutes that punish mothers, i.e. jail and fines, who allegedly deny fathers access to their children regardless of whatever abuse might be going on and 2) forced shared parenting. This is why there was such an emphasis on recommendations because father's rights activists were laser focused on getting such legislation passed and that was the only thing they cared about.  Luckily, none of that legislation passed, although they left ripe ground for another try.

As I recall, once the task force was finished, and the father's rights people no longer needed to fill seats during task force hearings, that is when they began to attack and silence mother's rights advocates, particularly via cyberbullying online on mass emails.  Once they began to focus on passing legislation, they didn't want mother's rights people around to object to legislation that was solely intended to punish them for protecting their children from abuse. I suppose father's rights people had a right to push what they believed in, but their blatantly exploitative tactics really put their attitudes of male privilege on display.  Meanwhile we are far from resolving the problem of family court corruption.  

I continue to receive emails from mothers who are in desperate straits attempting to protect their children and stay afloat financially.  It is a very discouraging situation for which I feel partially responsible. If only I'd been more informed at the time of the task force. If only I'd been more clear about the issues that needed to be addressed.  But I wasn't. I owe my supporters a personal apology for my failures as an advocate at that time. As protective mothers, we have to be careful that these father's rights people don't use us as sheeps clothing to hide in as they fight for more male privilege.

Meanwhile, I am aware that the National Parents Organization that ran this effort here in Connecticut has a budget that ranges in the area of $300,000 more or less per year, $46,000 of which they use for lobbying. I certainly don't have those resources. As protective mothers, this whole debacle related to the task force of 2013 really shows us what we are facing--a well heeled, sophisticated, corporately operated campaign to deny us our fundamental rights as parents.  In the next round, I may not be any more successful, given the strength of the opposition, but I will have a much better grasp of the powerful factors at play.  

For more information related to this topic see the following link:

"Why the Official Rejection of PAS Matters" by Barry Goldstein


  1. "Wolves in sheep's clothes" is very accurate. And it's true that some members of the reform group are abusers. They abuse their families and the judicial system. It's good that you know it now.

    1. The Judicial System itself created these monsters so...