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Showing posts with label CUSTODY. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CUSTODY. Show all posts

Friday, July 12, 2019


Testimony Regarding How Child Abuse Allegations are Ignored in Family Court and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is used as a Rationale to Award Custody of Children to an Abusive Parent

Joan Meier, JD
Professor of Law, George Washington University
Founder, DV LEAP
February 4, 2019

My name is Joan Meier, a law Professor at George Washington University and Founder of DV LEAP, an advocacy group for expert appellate litigation to reverse unjust trial court rulings and to protect the legal rights of women and children victimized by family violence. We would like to take this opportunity to testify and express our concern for current legislation being introduced to promote the use of Parental Alienation Syndrome as a tool to abuse domestic violence (DV) victims in family court.

Dr. Joan Meier

The Problem

“Protecting our children is one of the most important things that we can do for society. Unfortunately, some courtsare overlooking potential signs of abuse and are relying on scientifically unsound factors to make decisions that impact a child’s life.” Congressman Ted Poe

Despite numerous legislative and policy reforms designed to protect DV victims, many survivors and their children are denied legal protections in family court. Expert commentators assert that family courts are awarding unfettered access or custody to abusive fathers, and increasingly cutting children completely off from their protective mothers. This has been observed especially where mothers allege child sexual abuse. Studies show that an abuser will invoke the “alienation” defense, accusing the mother of trying to turn the children against him, rather than the court acknowledging that his abusive behavior has driven the children away. 

Studies also have identified a trend toward favoring fathers, in contrast to widespread assumptions that mothers are favored in custody litigation. The findings reveal a pattern of family court failures to consider evidence of intimate partner violence, disrespectful treatment of battered women, gender biased treatment of mothers, and granting of physical custody to perpetrators of intimate partner violence.  One study found that court preferences for joint custody and the “friendly parent” principle outweighed judicial consideration of abuse claims. More in-depth empirical research has examined the lack of expertise in domestic violence and child abuse—particularly child sexual abuse—among forensic custody evaluators, who are relied on heavily by the courts. 



A primary mechanism giving evaluators and courts a quasi- scientific rationale for rejecting or ignoring abuse allegations is the theory of “parental alienation (PA),” originally called “parental alienation syndrome (PAS),” and also called “child alienation,” or simply “alienation.” PAS is a construct invented and promoted by Richard Gardner to describe a “syndrome” whereby vengeful mothers employed child abuse allegations in litigation as a powerful weapon to punish ex-husbands and ensure custody to themselves. Gardner claimed that child sexual abuse allegations were rampant in custody litigation, and that the vast majority of such claims are false, designed by the mother to “alienate” the child from the father and drive him out of the child’s life. Gardner also characterized PAS as profoundly destructive to children’s mental health and as risking their relationships with their (purportedly falsely accused) fathers for life. Recommended remedies to PAS were often draconian, including a complete cutoff from the mother in order to “deprogram” the child. PAS quickly became widely incorporated into custody litigation when any abuse—not just child sexual abuse—was alleged. 

The Solution

On September 25, 2018, The U.S. House of Representatives passed H Con Res 72, a concurrent resolution urging state courts to determine family violence claims and risks to children before considering other ‘best interest’ factors. The resolution, backed by dozens of organizations advocating for protection of women and children*, encourages states to ensure courts rely only on admissible evidence and qualified experts, and adopt qualification standards for third-party appointees.  It also affirms that Congress is prepared to use its oversight authority to protect at-risk children. The resolution also asks for   strengthened evidence admissibility standards to help ensure only scientific facts or qualified expert testimony are used to prove or disprove child abuse allegations.

It urges Congress to:
  • identify child safety as the first priority in custody and visitation adjudications, considering it before all other interest factors;
  • allow only qualified scientific evidence and certified expert testimony to be introduced in cases involving child abuse claims; and
  • mandate Congressional hearings around the practices of family courts when handling family violence allegations.
DV LEAP also partnered with the Dept. of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women on a 2-year cooperative agreement to improve the family court system’s ability to protect children in custody cases involving domestic violence or child abuse. The agreement has concluded but great accomplishments and resources were achieved. In partnership with the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, we provided education on critical issues that often determine case outcomes, such as the misuse of flawed parental alienation theories and failure to consider evidence of abuse. One particularly powerful aspect of the Project’s work was the development of a unique database of cases that have “Turned Around.”  These are cases in which the initial custody order placed a child (or children) in dangerous contact with an abusive parent and a subsequent order protected the child. Analysis of these cases provided valuable understanding of how and why custody evaluations so frequently fail to identify or predict actual risk to children who are victims of family violence.

As as result of this Cooperative Agreement, DV LEAP and the Leadership Council produced a number of written tools and resource materials to assist professionals working in the family court system.  Links to each of the documents are provided below.

I. Resources on the misuse of Parental Alienation Syndrome/Parental Alienation

II. Resources for attorneys and advocates representing protective parents

III. Research Summaries

IV. Other Resource Materials
Critiques and Case Reports of GALs’ Failures to Protect Children in Custody and Abuse Cases

Data on False Allegations in Custody Context.

We respectfully suggest that any family court legislation involving custody, PAS, allegations of child abuse and  DV be thoroughly vetted by experts in the field of Domestic Violence.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this written testimony. I can be reached with any questions at

*The list of organizations that have been advocating for passage of H. Con. Res 72 includes Advocates for Child Empowerment & Safety (ACES); California Protective Parents Association (CPPA); Center for Judicial Excellence (CJE); City of Covina; Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP); ACTION OHIO Coalition For Battered Women; Azusa City Council; Battered Mothers’ Custody Conference; California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (CPEDV); Center for Child Protection and Family Support; Child Abuse Forensic Institute (CAFI); Child Abuse Solutions, Inc.; Child Justice; Child Protection Institute (CPI) at Liberty University; Child USA; Children’s Civil Rights Union (CCRU); Children’s Justice Fund; Coalition Against Domestic Violence – Lynchburg VA; Courageous Kids Network (CKN); Darkness to Light; Distinction in Family Courts (DFC); Families Against Court Travesties; Family Violence Appellate Project (FVAP); Futures Without Violence (FUTURES); Incest Survivors Speakers Bureau (ISSB); Joan of Arc Lawyers Foundation, Inc.; Justice for Children; Kids Are Human; Legislative Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse; Legal Momentum; Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; Lundy Bancroft; MassKids (Massachusetts Citizens for Children); Moms Fight Back; Mothers of Lost Children; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV); National Coalition for Family Justice (NCFJ); National Domestic Violence Hotline; National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV); National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS); National Organization for Women (NOW); National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence (NPEIV); National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence; Peace Over Violence; Piqui’s Justice; Senator Ed Hernandez; SOAR for Justice; Stop Abuse Campaign; Support Network of Advocates for Protective Parents (SNAPP); Talk About Abuse to Liberate Kids (TAALK); The Hofheimer Family Law Firm; The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence; The Nurtured Parent; and Wings for Justice.

Friday, April 20, 2018



Testimony of Attorney Shirley Pripstein, Greater Hartford Legal Aid

The Legal Service family law attorneys in Connecticut oppose legislation that would create a presumption that shared parenting is in the best interest of minor children for the following reasons:

-There is no empirical evidence that shared parenting is, in fact, in the best interest of minor children.

-A shared parenting presumption is a cookie-cutter approach that puts the emphasis on the rights of the parents rather than on the best interest of children.

-A shared parenting arrangement may be in the best interest of children whose parents are committed to living in the same school district and making shared parenting work, but it is clearly not in the best interest of the majority of children whose custody is determined by the courts. These are children whose parents may never have cohabited or developed the communication and compromise skills necessary to making a shared parenting arrangement a comforting situation for the child.

-Shared parenting is particularly inappropriate when the parents live in different towns, making choice of school districts and sports teams an issue.

-Shared parenting is particularly inappropriate when there is a history of domestic violence between the parents, which is concrete evidence that at least one of the parents lacks communication and compromise skills necessary for co-parenting.

Connecticut has a well-thought out child custody statute, enacted ... in 2005, which sets forth sixteen factors for the court to consider when making orders of child custody and apportioning time between parents.

The factors appropriately recognize and attempt to balance the need of a child for stability against the need of a child for contact with both parents, and recognize that there are other factors that the court should consider in deciding what orders to make regarding child custody when the parents are unable to agree.  

A shared parenting presumption is a thinly disguised and ill-advised attempt to elevate the parental time considerations above the other factors set forth in our statutes, and should be rejected by this task force.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


There are few cases that present the spectacle of the foolishness of family court here in CT quite as effectively as the Mathew Couloute versus Lauren Haiden versus Stacey Blitsch cases.  

Mathew Couloute, for those who are interested, is a native son, born and raised here in CT and said to be an associate of Gov. Dan Malloy.  An attorney and formerly a state prosecutor, Mr. Couloute is a talented, intelligent, capable if not brilliant professional with some unfortunately fatal character flaws, one being an inability to maintain a steady and law abiding career path, and the other, a complete inability to maintain a decent and courteous relationship with the mothers of his two children currently aged 11 and 5.  

Monday, August 15, 2016


My parents were married for over 60 years, but it wasn't all a bed of roses.  I will never forget how, after one of their big fights, my father asked me who I wanted to live with once they divorced--him or my Mom.  I wasn't going to be stupid and answer a question like that--even at ten I knew better!  Sure enough, they made up and the question became moot.  

However, if I'd thought it was a serious question, this is what I might have answered.  I would have said I wanted to live with my Mom, not because she was the better parent, but because she needed me more because of her drug and alcohol addiction.  I'm not sure that would have been such a good idea, however!  

So how do judges decide who gets the children--do they just ask the kids or what?   

The question of who gets custody of the children after a divorce remains a complex and difficult question in some divorce cases.  Luckily, most people see the common sense of keeping Mother in charge when she has been the primary parent on an ongoing basis and allowing for generous visitation from Dad.  But in divorces where custody is under dispute, how does the Court make the decision in regard to custody, and do judges in these cases take into account the preferences of the children involved?  

In CT, under 46b-56(b) the following factors are supposed to be taken into account as follows:
  1. The child's developmental needs
  2. Each parent's ability to meet the child's needs
  3. Each parent's desire to have custody
  4. The child's relationship with each parent, siblings, and anyone else living in either parent's home that may affect the child's best interests
  5. The stability of each parent's residence
  6. Each parent's willingness to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent
  7. Whether either parent tries to manipulate the child or involve him or her in the parent's dispute
  8. Each parent's ability to be actively involved in the child's life
  9. The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
  10. The length of time the child has lived in the current environment if it's stable
  11. The child and parents' mental and physical health
  12. The child's cultural background
  13. Either parent's history of domestic violence
  14. Whether the child has been abused and neglected
  15. The child's wishes as to custody, and
  16. Any other factors relevant to custody
As you can see, the child's wishes are way down there under 15.  It is not highlighted as a major factor.  

However, what I find really interesting when I talk to people who have not yet been to Court over custody is how many parents believe judges put a lot of weight on what the child wants.  In fact, what the child wants, even when he or she is a teenager, often isn't a major consideration in regard to custody decisions.  I hear so many parents say my daughter or son wants to live with me and he is 8, or 10, or 12 or whatever age, and can now decide.  Well, no, that is not the case.  Ultimately, the judge decides and the decisions will be made based upon the judges' assessment of all the factors under consideration listed 1 - 16 above, even one as vague as #16 "any other factors relevant to custody." 

In addition, keep in mind that the final decision is supposed to be based upon that often vague and greatly vilified standard "the best interests of the child."  

I hope all of you noted the "friendly parent" factor that so many protective mother advocates hate item #6 on the list above.  We do have a friendly parent factor in the State of Connecticut!  

So, despite the limitations involved that I have mentioned, at what age can the Judge begin to take into account the preferences of the child?  In the State of CT at younger than 5, the opinion of the child is not a consideration.  At 13, the child's preferences have a much greater impact. Between 5 and 13, Judges will consider the child's preferences on a case by case basis, whatever that means.  In California, FYI, the age at which a child's preferences are considered is 14.  

However, Judges ultimately have complete discretion regarding the impact a child's preferences will have on a custody decision.  If the Judge thinks that a child's preferences are based on poor judgment, he or she is unlikely to consider them.  As Divorcenet stated "A court can disregard a child's preference when the judge believes it's not in the child's best interests."  

Notoriously, if judges believe that a child's preference is founded upon "Parental Alienation Syndrome" PAS, that judge will be unlikely to grant custody to the alleged offending parent no matter what the child says. This is what happened in the Kathi Sorrentino case where the child was 15 and expressed a preference to be with his mother. However, the child's preference, on the most frivolous grounds, was determined to be an expression of PAS so father was given sole custody.  

Therefore, people who think their child can make up his or her own mind at the age of 13, this is simply not the case.   Case law supports this wishy washy approach as in Knock v. Knock, 224 Conn. 776, 788-9 (1991) where the Supreme Court ruled that the Court "does not require that the trial court award custody to whomever the child wishes, it requires only that the court take the child's wishes into consideration."  So a Judge may or may not take a child's preferences into consideration.  

So, how does the judge discover what a child's preferences may be.  In Divorcenet, there was a complete discussion regarding judges determining a child's preferences by interviewing the child in chambers along with a discussion of how an attorney should manage that kind of interview.  In all my time hearing about divorce and custody matters in Connecticut during the last decade, I have never known a judge to interview a child in chambers about his or her preferences.  It could be this does happen and I just don't know about it, but still.

Also, there was a discussion of when children can testify in open Court regarding their preferences.  I have known many parents to insist that their children ought to have the right to testify in Court regarding their preferences. As far as I can see, judges absolutely frown on parents who insist upon putting their children through the trauma of testifying in Court.  This is so certain that I can pretty much say that if you insist upon having your children testify while your ex doesn't, that's about a guarantee that you will not get custody of your children!  

For the better part, if there is a custody dispute, what happens is that if your child is under 13, the court will appoint a GAL, a custody evaluator, or a family relations officer to do a thorough investigation of your circumstances in order to present a recommendation to the court which will ordinarily be accepted.  If the child is 13 or older, it is likely the child will be assigned an attorney of the minor child in order to advocate for that child's wishes.  But all of this is really not rigidly adhered to.  I've seen children who have both a GAL and an AMC. I've seen children over 13 who only have a GAL.  It all depends upon the politics of your particular case.  

The real danger of these investigators is that you have to rely on their word that when they report the wishes of the children that they are actually telling the truth.  I have no doubt that they lie on occasion.  Thus, if you have any concerns about the investigator in your case, you might want to have your child sit down and write to the investigator stating what his or her preference is so that it is on the record.  If the custody evaluator or GAL will not accept it, which is what happened to me, you can simply submit it directly to the Court.

You may be accused of manipulating your child to write the letter, but if you have concerns about the truthfulness of the professionals in your case, it is better to be thought of as manipulative than not have your child's preferences considered at all.  

Bottom line is, the State of Connecticut has a presumption of joint legal custody if both of you agree to that.  What is interesting is how few attorneys actually explain that to their clients.  What you are actually fighting over most of the time is which parent is going to be the residential parent, i.e. the home where the children primarily reside, i.e. what is considered their residence legally speaking for matters such as school attendance.  Other than that, the sky is the limit in terms of how much actual time each parent gets to spend with the children.  

Traditionally, the visitation is set for one or two evenings a week and every other weekend for the non-residential parent, but I have known people to renegotiate that for more time for the non-residential parent.  

When you get down to it, fighting over this day here or that day there to the tune of thousands and thousands of dollars is pretty silly, and most couples left to their own devices will work out a modus vivendi.  

The question is do you truly want to create an unpleasant atmosphere by quarreling at every turn.  Many abusive family court attorneys and vendors would love you to, but it is your job to see through them and move forward. Trust me, ten years later when you are considering college tuition fees, you will be happy you did so. 

Bottom line, again, when it comes to the children's preferences, do not count on them to get you custody because it is not an absolute.

Friday, July 24, 2015


Written testimony

Task Force to Study Legal Disputes Involving the Care & Custody of Minor Children
January 9, 2014

Good morning Attorney Cousineau, Attorney Dornfeld and members of the task force. CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) is the state’s leading voice for victims of domestic violence and those agencies that serve them. Our members provide essential services to over 56,000 victims of domestic violence, such as 24- hour crisis response, emergency shelter, safety planning, counseling, support groups and court advocacy.

CCADV OPPOSES the presumption of shared custody as being in the best interest of the child.

While there are variances on what constitutes “shared custody,” previous definitions that have been considered by the CT General Assembly (House Bill 6685, 2013 Session) have included shared decision making as it relates to the “child’s welfare, including, but not limited to, matters relating to education, medical care, and emotional, moral, social and religious development.” Any such requirement for a parent that is the victim of an abusive relationship would be very concerning.

From the perspective of the parent who has been abused, a shared custody arrangement presents another opportunity for the abuser to attempt to exert control over him/her and to do so in one of the most alarming manners possible - through the children. In a continuing effort to gain control, the abusive partner may object to any proposed decisions for the children or to put up stumbling blocks for the implementation of any decisions once made.

As Louisiana has found, “the legislature finds that problems of family violence do not necessarily cease when the victimized family is legally separated or divorced. In fact, the violence often escalates, and child custody and visitation becomes the new forum for the continuation of the abuse. Because current laws relative to child custody and visitation are based on an assumption that even divorcing parents are in relatively equal positions, and that such parents act in the children’s best interest, these laws often work against protection of the children and abused spouse in families with a history of family violence.” (LA Rev. Stat. Ann. Section 9:361)

In fact, Colorado recently passed critical child custody reforms that address this very issue. In 2013, Colorado Revised Statute (C.R.S.) § 14-10-123.4 was revised to reflect that children have certain rights in the determination of matters relating to parental responsibilities, including:
  1. a)  The right to have such determination based upon the best interests of the child;
  2. b)  The right to be emotionally, mentally, and physically safe when in the care of either parent; and,
  3. c)  The right to reside in and visit in homes that are free of domestic violence and child abuse or neglect.
Colorado law also recognizes that co-parenting is not appropriate in all circumstances, and clarifies that “when appropriate” parents should share the rights and responsibilities of child-rearing and encourage the love, affection, and contact between the children and the other parent. Additionally, when a claim of domestic violence has been made, the court must first consider whether one of the parties has committed an act of domestic violence, engaged in a pattern of domestic violence or has a history of domestic violence prior to determining parenting time and decision- making responsibility and prior to considering any of the other “best interest” factors (C.R.S. § 14-10-124).

The paramount concern reflected in the new Colorado laws governing child custody is the child’s safety, including the physical, mental and emotional conditions and needs of the child. Recognizing that the presence of domestic violence and the control and manipulation of one parent over another, especially via the child, can and will have devastating, long-term effects on the child is imperative to any discussion about the presumption that shared custody is in the best interest of every child.

Shared decision-making that forces victims of domestic violence into a vulnerable position of having to negotiate with an abuser who has already traumatized them is unlikely to be successful and will certainly lead to continued conflict not only for the victim, but for the involved child. Children who witness intimate partner violence within their family face a greater risk of developing severe and potentially lifelong problems with physical health, mental health, and school and peer relationships, as well as disruptive behavior.

It is wishful thinking that all parents are good parents and should have equal time with and decision making authority related to their child. Presumed shared custody with shared decision making is not in the best interest of any child whose parent has been the victim of domestic violence at the hands of the other parent. Connecticut should not place into statute language that will easily allow abusers to maintain control over their victim and their children.

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.

Liza Andrews

Communications & Public Policy Specialist (860) 282-7899 

Sunday, May 24, 2015


TMZ reports as follows:
"Kelly Rutherford has finally won a battle in her 3 year war to get her kids back from her ex-husband, and on U.S. soil -- at least in a California court, but it reams to be seen if Monaco will honor the deal. 
On Friday a California judge granted her custody of 8-year-old son Hermes and 6-year-old daughter Helena. The children have been living in France and Monaco with their father Daniel Giersch since 2012.
The Califronia ruling only says Kelly has the right to bring the children back to the U.S. while the custody battle continues. The problem is, it's unclear weather Monaco courts will honor the California ruling.
Earlier this month, Kelly came on TMZ Live and told us Giersch had "habitual residents" status for the children ... meaning they could not be removed from Monoco."

Read more:

People Magazine:

"Kelly Rutherford Granted Sole Custody of Her 2 Children"

See Link:

Friday, January 23, 2015


General Assembly
  Proposed Bill No. 659  
January Session, 2015
  LCO No. 2322

Referred to Committee on JUDICIARY

Introduced by:
SEN. KISSEL, 7th Dist. 


Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

That section 46b-56 of the general statutes be amended to provide that the court: (1) Shall not, on its own initiative, enter or modify an order regarding the care, custody, education, visitation or support of a child; and (2) shall clearly articulate specific findings as to each best interest factor considered when rendering a decision regarding the care, custody, education, visitation or support of a child

Statement of Purpose:
To improve the process relating to the entry of court orders regarding the care and custody of children.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014



"Whose Best Interest Served in Child Custody Cases?

There are secret courts operating in our midst, and I am not referring to those tribunals whose focus is national security. I’m talking about something more basic and closer to home. I’m talking about our juvenile courts, where the fate of children is sometimes determined.

Consider the case of Jane Doe and John Doe, two Connecticut parents stuck in Kafkaesque proceedings. They are in the midst of a divorce. They have three children. Those children are now in foster care, and it is not clear when the parents will again have the right to raise them as they see fit. In fact, it is not even clear when the father will even get to see his children again."

For the full content of this article, please click on the link below:

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Many Family Court activists have tried to figure out how we can reduce the high conflict litigation in Connecticut's Family Courts.  The most recent proposal for doing this is to require that the State of Connecticut adopt a presumption of Shared Custody which would replace what we have now which is the presumption of Joint Custody. 

So what is the difference between Shared Custody and Joint Custody?  I have to tell you that I have repeatedly asked this question and haven't really received a satisfactory answer.  But I will do my best to give you a definition here today.  If folks reading this blog think I have misunderstood the definitions, please let me know so I can correct any mistakes. 

From what I gather, Shared Custody presumes that both parents would end up with fifty/fifty access time with the children.  In contrast, Joint Custody would stick to the idea that you have a custodial parent and a non-custodial parent and the non-custodial parent would see the children every other weekend--Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday until around 7:00p.m., and would then also have the opportunity for dinner with the child either one or two days per week. 

Both approaches to custody include a decision making policy where the parents share decision making in regard to the medical, educational, and religious lives of the children while leaving every day decision making to the individual parents who are present at the time. 

I have spoken about what I see as the problems with Shared Custody, which is that the children would have to jump from home to home and never exactly settle in either one, plus there are some very serious logistical problems if parents live over 45 minutes away from each other.  This means the children would be spending an awful lot of time in the car. 

The problem I see with Joint Custody is that the non-custodial parents are really limited to around 4 full days per month with their children, plus 4 to 8 two hour periods per week, which seems like hardly anything to me. 

On the one hand, if the parents are not getting along, perhaps that is a good idea.  However, if they are fairly easy going with each other, why not just reasonably expand the timeframe a little bit.  After all, in good times before the divorce most non-custodial parents saw their children every day. 

Still, the big question is, would either the presumption of Shared Custody or Joint Custody significantly reduce the level of conflict between divorcing couples when it comes to custody matters? 

I simply don't think so. 

Whether Shared or Joint, those couples who fight now are going to continue to fight with either approach.  Shared Custody will invite conflict just the same as Joint Custody does now because you are always going to have the exceptions built into any statute.

Those who fought for greater parental access under Joint Custody statutes are going to continue to use exceptions to get it.  Further, such litigants are going to use the greater access to the other parent that Shared Custody gives them to interfere in the day to day decision making of the other parent and use that as a means to abuse or coerce the other parent to relinquish his or her parental rights.  Bottom line--it's a nightmare. 

What else would I suggest? 

I would suggest implementing the Primary Caretaker Presumption.  The Primary Caretaker Presumption states that whichever parent, either father or mother, played the role of primary caretaker up to the filing for divorce should continue in that role.  Such a presumption would immediately eliminate the vast majority of the underlying causes of long and drawn out litigation. 

Identifying the primary caretaker up to that point would act as an extremely accurate litmus test for determining who should be the custodial parent. 

So why hasn't this been done already?  I'll tell you why.

Underlying the concept of Joint Custody as well as Shared Custody is the idea that it does not matter who was the primary custodian up to that point--that this doesn't affect the children that much emotionally. 

Further, the idea is that if the wage earner, up to the point of filing for divorce, suddenly finds inside him or her his latent talent for caregiving children, then that parent should be allowed to exercise it, even though he or she never exercised it before.  In theory, I have heard it said, it could be that the better caregiver is the wage earner, but because of economic necessity, he or she has been unable to exercise those abilities and now has the right to. 

This is an admirable sentiment.  But is it worth the waste of thousands and thousands of dollars and the destruction of so many of the lives of parents, children, and grandparents in order to achieve it?  I don't think so. 

The bottom line is that consistency in regard to primary caretaker is very important to children, particularly at the time of divorce.  To deny this is to completely trivialize the role of such caretakers, and is bottom line insulting and demeaning towards those caretakers who have often sacrificed a great deal physically and economically, let alone in regard to social independence and personal autonomy, in order to be there for their children. 

Originally, the Primary Caretaker Presumption was the law.  However, in the 1970s and 1980s with the rise of feminism, this presumption was replaced by Joint Custody.  The thought behind this among feminists was that such a policy would free women up to pursue challenging and interesting careers and release them from the domestic ghetto they found themselves in. 

At the same time, feminists anticipated that Joint Custody would allow more men to exercise their nurturing side and provide them with greater opportunities to leave the office and spend more time with their children. 

Unfortunately, this shift to Joint Custody backfired and led to serious harm and damage for women.  Since Joint Custody led to greater custody rights for fathers, unscrupulous men then used their greater access to children as a means to put pressure on mothers so that often mothers were forced to bargain away their economic rights for their custody rights. 

Frequently, Courts were too willing to be impressed with a father's sudden eagerness to assume an active role in parenting and failed to scrutinize his actual motivation which was simply to hammer down the level of child support and alimony he would have to pay. 

The end result was a phenomenon which one author described as "The Feminization of Poverty" where post divorce the income of fathers increased considerably while that of women took a sizeable decline.  Even if the happy result did occur where a father took the opportunity to spend more time with the children while mother returned to the job market, the fact remains that the vast majority of women did not achieve wage equity and remained stuck in medium to low paying jobs. 

As a feminist, I believe that a woman who has been primary caretaker up to the point of filing for divorce should certainly have the option to choose to leave that position and return to the working world and, should she wish to and her ex is willing, shift the burden of responsibility over to her ex-husband.  However, I certainly abhor the idea that she would be forced to do so through family court machinations and corruption. 

Unfortunately, what I am hearing about from a good many women is that Joint Custody has simply given abusive men greater access to abuse their ex wives and children either through custody switching schemes or financial beat downs.  Shared Custody, then, would simply do exactly the same thing, but worse.  

Also, unfortunately, many women who have lost custody of their children have been duped into joining father's rights groups and supporting Shared  Custody because they think at least if we have Shared Custody I will be able to see my children forgetting that it was Joint Custody (And, of course, its malevolent cousin Shared Custody which is simply a more intrusive form of Joint Custody) that got them where they are in the first place!  

The bottom line is, the only way to protect the rights of primary caretakers of children, both men and women, is to stick with the Primary Caretaker Presumption.  The fact is that, if we had such a presumption, the whole industry of GALs, AMCs, Custody Evaluators, and other vendors would collapse because we would have an open and shut way of making custody decisions in 99.9% of cases.  Whoever was the primary caretaker before will continue to be so.  Done and done.

As a nod, however, to the major social and intellectual changes that have taken place in recent decades, I would certainly recommend that the Primary Caretaker Presumption be combined with liberal visitation rights for non-custodial parents which go well beyond the minimal timeframe that Joint Custody currently provides.  Further, decision making should remain joint in regard to medical care, education, and religion.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


After years of begging the Department of Justice to take action, Anne Stevenson reports that the Department recently announced its intention to take steps to investigate the Connecticut Judicial Branch.  For more information, please click on the link below:


Tuesday, December 3, 2013


When it comes to custody, I have largely addressed my concerns towards the issue of corrupt GALs and AMCs who are defrauding unsuspecting parents of thousands and thousands of dollars.  I haven't spent as much time with the question of shared custody. 
However, many of the folks who established the current task force addressing issues such as GALs and AMCs and the importance of shared custody (and that is actually not me, by the way!)  are much more focused on the importance of implementing shared custody in Connecticut's Courts. 
My problem with this idea has been that I am totally confused by what shared custody means!
In essence, my response has been that the State of Connecticut already has the presumption of joint custody in place, so what more do you want.  What joint custody means is that both parties in divorce have equal decision making authority in regard to religious, medical, and educational matters. 
However, joint custody does not address the question of who is the parent who obtains primary custody of the children, or in other words, who has residential custody of the children.
Now in my case, I ended up having the residential custody of the children and my ex lives out of State.  So it was pretty clear that once I obtained the residential custody of the children, my ex would have time with the kids every other weekend, and as it turned out in our case, he was given two evenings a week for dinner from 5:30p.m. to 8:30p.m., which he never followed through on.  Of course, given how far away he is, that is actually understandable so I'm not complaining,I'm just informing!  Plus, my ex was allowed a little over a full month over the summer. 
Even though I can explain the limited time my ex obtained by citing the fact that he is Out of State, there are many non residential parents who have this very same schedule even though they may just live a single town away from their kids.  My impression is that family court is kind of stuck on the schedule of every other weekend and one night during the week for dinner for the non residential parent, although I am hearing that many also get Sunday night and have the opportunity to take their kids to school on Monday morning.
This adds up to maybe 4 to 6 overnights in a 30 to 31 day month for the non residential parent. 
When you put it that way, to me, that doesn't seem like a whole lot of time!
If the divorce has been particularly ugly, to the offended party that amount of time must seem to be ten times more than the person deserves.  However, in the ordinary situation where you don't have high degrees of tension, I must say 4 to 6 overnights doesn't seem like much time for a child to develop a significant relationship with a parent.  In fact, I'd say it is pretty crummy. 
That's where, I am suspecting, the whole concept of Shared Parenting comes into play. Non-residential parents are sick and tired of essentially being excluded from a significant role in their children's lives and Shared Parenting seems like a good solution to the problem. 
To be honest, when folks first approached me with the concept of Shared Parenting I had no idea what it was, and I still don't feel as though I have a good grasp of it.  However, in order to write this blog I quickly looked up a definition and came up with one on the blog "A Dad's Divorce"  and found the following link:
From what I gather after reading this article, Shared Parenting basically consists of a situation where the parties have a 50/50 share of the overnights.  What advocates in support of Shared Parenting would like to see is the presumption of joint custody, which is currently in place, replaced by the presumption of a 50/50 share of the overnights between the two parents.  
If I have not understood this concept properly, someone who is an expert in Shared Parenting, please interject a clarification so I can understand the term more accurately!
My immediate reaction to this kind of arrangement is that it would make much more sense in terms of allowing both parents liberal access to the children, and also allowing the parties who were previously known as the non-custodial parents to continue on with their close relationship with their children subsequent to the divorce. 
If there is one aspect of divorce that I believe is particularly painful, it is the loss of the intimacy, or day to day contact, with your children that the non-custodial parent endures.  Then they are told to fork over the money and it can appear to them that the custodial parent, as well as society as a whole, only considers them valuable for the money they provide and not for the non monetary items such as mentoring, emotional connection, and shared experiences, etc..  
If the parties live reasonably close by, why not proceed with a Shared Custody arrangement? 
One concern I'd have would be that kids with Shared Parenting situations would end up feeling like tennis balls bouncing from one house to the other and back again and not settling in anywhere. 
Second, for children with mental health issues such as anxiety, and children with autism, etc. such frequent changes of homes could be disruptive and end up undercutting their ability to function. 
It's not just the homes, either, it is also the community that the children spend time in--with Shared Custody they'd have two separate sets of families, churches, rec. centers, etc. 
I could see that being a problem, but I could also see that as being an opportunity, but only for a particular kind of child, and that would require a custody study to see what kind of children do you have. 
Oh no! 
Now we are back to the custody study that we were trying to avoid by establishing the presumption of Shared Parenting!  Because I am almost certain that the State Legislature will never approach any change in CT Statutes which doesn't include some kind of loopholes for that minority of parents whose circumstances don't match the norm. 
I also think that in cases of proven abuse of either of the parties, or in cases where there is ongoing high conflict, Shared Parenting would be difficult because it would increase contact between the parties and almost certainly result in more frequent opportunities for one of the parties to browbeat and harass the other. 
Of course, much of the solution for that problem is the establishment of safer, more scrutinized transfer locations so that one party does not use the transfer of the children as an opportunity to continue the abuse. 
Furthermore, family court would have to address much more effectively this business of one party taking advantage of the other by showing up late.  There is only so long that you can keep the kids in the car watching DVDs waiting for the other person to show. 
I also think that the inevitable result of Shared Parenting is increased shared decision making which also requires that the parties have the ability to communicate with each other effectively.  For many parents whose relationship remains hostile, this will be a particular challenge. 
However, if you are talking the average divorce which is reasonably civilized, the expansion into the territory of Shared Parenting really offers an opportunity, one that should not  be denied simply because our current Family Court lacks vision.  Parents should regularly be informed in Family Court that Shared Parenting is an option that they can pursue.
Personally, I think that Family Court needs to take into consideration the potential for extending the opportunity non residential parents have to spend time with their children.  I think the every other weekend schtick with one dinner a week is much too rigid and old fashioned in our day and age.
However, before the task force makes any recommendations and the legislature takes action, I would like to have the opportunity to read studies on the outcome of Shared Parenting situations.  I would like to hear the children of such arrangements have the opportunity to speak about what it is like.  Right now we are sort of operating in the dark. 
But we do need to be open to the future, to acknowledge that we no longer have the traditional family where one parent works full time while the other stays at home.  As a Mom going to lots of play groups and kid activities, I met quite a few full time at home Dads, which is completely new for our generation. 
Family Court needs to understand that the times are a changing and the Court needs to catch up to that. 
This is why there is so much dissatisfaction throughout the State right now in regard to custody matters.  For me, personally, I was offended that Family Court judges and attorneys seemed to expect me to be a clone of Betty Crocker, while lots of guys must feel pretty offended that the only thing judges and attorneys appear to see when they look at them are stacks of money bags. 
We live in the modern age where computers are outmoded six months or sooner after you buy them.  Fashionable clothing is practically outrĂ© the moment you put it on.  Family Court has got to adjust to that dynamic, as well as the dynamic that we have probably the most educated group of Family Court consumers than there has ever been before. 
So what do you guys think about this?  Does any of this make sense?  I'd love to hear your views in the comment section below!  Where do we go from here?