Articles Posted in Parental Alienation

An Orange County Divorce can be a difficult, emotionally stressful, experience. A recent case from New York, however, can be seen as a cautionary tale: listen to sound advice from your attorneys, don’t let the pressure get to you and, above all, if you feel as though you are about to crack – get some help.

The case I am referring to concerns Anthony Chiofalo who, according to the New York Law Journal, has been involved in a contentious divorce proceeding since 2005. The Journal reports that he first crossed a line when he violated a protection order a court had issued to keep him away from his estranged wife and children. Then, having moved here to California, he began sending obscenity-laced messages not only to his wife but to “her lawyer, his sons’ law guardian and the law clerk assigned to his divorce case.”

Chiofalo – himself an attorney – did all this against the explicit advice of his own lawyers and has now had his law license suspended for two years (a penalty that was, in fact, harsher than the censure prosecutors requested, according to the Journal).

According to a report in the Orange County Register, a key hearing is scheduled to take place in Orange County Family Court today in the ‘Baby Vanessa’ case. As I have outlined in earlier posts here and here, this complex Orange County father’s rights case involves a Rancho Santa Margarita woman, Stacey Doss, who adopted Vanessa, now age 2, shortly after the child’s birth.

Doss was told by the child’s birth mother that the baby was the born as the result of a one-night stand and that her father wished no involvement with the baby. In fact, the father, Benjamin Mills of Dayton OH, had an on-and-off relationship with the birth mother who had not, it emerged, told him she was pregnant. Mills sued for custody of his daughter, with Doss countering that she is the only parent Vanessa has ever known and that parting the two would be too traumatic for the child. Over the summer Mills’ mother, who is raising his two other children, also petitioned for custody of Vanessa.

Now, the Register, quoting a spokesman for Doss, reports that custody negotiations between Doss and Mills “started Wednesday and continued Thursday with no resolution.” The timing is crucial since, the paper notes, “a court hearing Friday will determine if mediation will continue or if the custody case will go to trial.” A custody hearing was originally scheduled to take place in Ohio early next week but has, for the moment, been “put on hold”, according to the paper, pending the outcome of these talks.

A common trend in couples going through a heated Orange County child custody battle is one parent’s parental alienation of the child against the other parent. Parental alienation occurs when a child expresses unjustified hatred or unreasonably strong dislike of one parent, making access by the rejected parent difficult or impossible. The feelings of the child may be triggered by the other parent’s negative comments. For example, if one parent “bad-mouths” the other parent in the presence of the child, the child will likely be influenced by that parent’s negativity. This causes the child to dislike the parent being talked down upon.

Often times couples going through a divorce forget about the children involved and usually seek “revenge” against the other spouse without consideration for the welfare of the children involved. Obviously, such tactics are not in the best interest of the child. When going through an Orange County divorce proceedings, it is best to keep the children out of the situation and to keep the issues strictly between the divorcing couple.

Parental Alienation has drastic effects upon a child and in some cases, it takes years for the child to recover. You can read more on coping and recovering from parental alienation here.

Are you involved in a physically abusive relationship? Has your life been threatened by your spouse? Are your children unsafe living with your spouse because he or she neglects or abandons the children? If you answered to yes to any of these questions, filing an Ex parte application may be a way to resolve your problems.

Filing an Ex parte application with a Los Angeles or Orange County court is essentially requesting that the court hear your case on shortened time (or sometimes, without notice to the other party) due to the presence of an “emergency” or “irreparable harm” situation. Typically, such ex parte applications involve child custody matters (i.e. child is in danger or has been abducted), domestic violence matters (i.e. physical abuse, violence or attack) or any matter warranting an “emergency” hearing. Pursuant to Orange County Rule of Court 704C, “ex parte relief will be granted only upon a showing of irreparable harm . . .”

As an example, if Dad discovers that Mom is abusing drugs and/or alcohol, neglecting her duties to care for the children such as forgetting to pick up the children or failing to provide them with food, clothing etc., and if Dad believes the children are in danger if they continue to reside with Mom, Dad may petition the court for Ex parte relief to obtain custody of the children.

An Associated Press article that has been republished throughout the national media this week notes a growing trend in custody cases here in California and elsewhere: claims by one spouse/ex-spouse that medical marijuana use by the other renders that person an unfit parent.

Though focused mainly on Washington state, the piece quotes a representative of a California group, Americans for Safe Access, saying “her organization has received calls about 61 such cases” over the last four years.

Southern California child custody and visitation cases are often contentious. Parents play hardball with one another over Orange County, Los Angeles County and San Bernardino child custody issues. It is often only through aggressive legal representation that accused parents can avoid situations that rise to the level of California parental alienation and maintain the kind of relationship with their children that they want and deserve. The AP article cites several instances of fathers or stepfathers reduced to limited or supervised visitation with their children because they are medical marijuana patients. These court rulings have been issued despite a specific provision in Washington’s medical marijuana law mandating that authorized users “shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege.”

The latest round in the continuing struggle over parental alienation and father’s rights is being fought on Long Island, but contains lessons for Orange County parents battling California parental alienation.

According to a report by WCBS-TV, a Long Island judge has sentenced a woman to alternating summer weekends in jail for alienating her two daughters from their father, in the process denying him child visitation rights. On one occasion the mother also falsely accused the father of molesting one of the girls. “Right now, the children want nothing to do with me,” Ted Rubin told the New York Post. According to the paper, Rubin’s ex-wife Lauren Lippe was found guilty of numerous violations of the couple’s joint custody decree.

The victory for this long-suffering father can be taken to heart by other fathers dealing with difficult, sometimes impossible, divorce situations. According to WCBS, Rubin and Lippe divorced in 2003. Rubin says the problems began almost immediately (the couple’s girls are now ages 13 and 15), and has reached a point where they now tell him their stepfather, is their “real father”.

A recent news item from Utah presents one of the odder cases of child custody fraud in recent memory. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, a couple are in custody after allegedly forging documents to gain legal custody of their two grandchildren: a two year old and an infant, aged only four months.

According to the Tribune, the children’s parents are separated. The accused couple are the paternal grandparents. The case began to unfold in mid-February when the children left home for what their mother thought would be an overnight visit to the grandparents. She could not, however, reach them the following day. Upon contacting the police she discovered that, unbeknownst to her, a court had awarded custody of her children to the grandparents. The children continued to live with the grandparents for the next several weeks. During that time the grandparents did not allow the mother to see them. Reviewing court papers associated with the child custody decision, the mother’s attorney found a document supposedly signed by the mother in which she relinquished her parental rights to the grandparents. The document was a forgery and the paper reports that the court then moved swiftly to reverse its earlier decision. In the meantime, the grandparents took the children, closed up their house and left Utah, telling neighbors they were moving to California.

Police eventually located the couple in Las Vegas where, the newspaper says, the grandmother “told investigators they would not return the children.” Police eventually convinced her to reveal her location, after which Nevada child services took custody of the kids. The grandparents returned to Utah and turned themselves in.

A bill currently being considered by the Tennessee state legislature has attracted the attention of father’s rights advocates nationwide, and promises to add new vigor to the debate over California father’s rights.

According to a recent article in USA Today, as well as local Tennessee media reports, the proposed legislation would require judges hearing contentious child custody cases to split custody evenly between the mother and father if the parents are otherwise unable to resolve their differences. Father’s rights groups across the country have hailed the initiative while, according to USA Today, “an alliance of women’s groups, some judges and the Tennessee Bar Association… say the change would make divorces tougher to settle and give abusive ex-husbands leverage they shouldn’t have.”

The Tennessee controversy echoes the father’s rights debate we are currently having here in Orange County and elsewhere in California as our own legislature considers California parental alienation legislation. It is unfortunate that some partisan voices are skewing these legislative debates by implying that Orange County or Los Angeles father’s rights advocates are, by definition, attempting to protect the rights of abusers. According to a University of Memphis law professor quoted by USA Today, the proposed law would make Tennessee unique in the nation in “requiring clear, convincing evidence that one parent is unfit before dividing child custody unequally.”

California parental alienation has been the subject of competing columns in recent issues of the Sacramento political newspaper Capitol Weekly. Interest in the issue has been spurred by the introduction of a bill in the State Assembly, AB 612. The bill declares California parental alienation to be an “unscientific theory” and, if adopted, would bar California family courts from considering parental alienation as part of custody hearings.

AB 612 was originally introduced early last year and began making its way through the legislative process before being set aside over the summer. According to the legislature’s online bill tracking system, the first hearings on the measure were cancelled last July at the request of the measure’s sponsor, Assemblyman Jim Beall (D-San Jose). The bill is not, however, dead and is scheduled to be considered by the California Senate’s Judiciary Committee later this spring.

The competing articles in Capitol Weekly lay out the two sides of the issue in forceful language. The measure’s supporters reject the entire idea of parental alienation seeing it, in essence, as a legal fig leaf designed to return battered children to the custody of an abusive parent.

California parental alienation advocates, however, oppose the measure. They argue that while no one favors child abuse, it is ridiculous to suggest that parents involved in contentious California divorce proceedings do not sometimes attempt to poison their children’s attitudes toward the other parent.

The anti-AB 612 column in the Weekly also notes that a number of legal and judicial professional organizations have expressed opposition to the measure, including “the Judicial Council; the California Judges Association; the Family Law section of the State Bar; the California Psychological Association; the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists; the Association of Family Conciliation Courts; and numerous others.” Legal and judicial organizations have voiced concerns over any measure that would limit the scope of information a judge is able to consider during a California custody hearing.
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Another tale of an international child custody battle now focuses on the case of Orange County’s own Andrew Ko and his 9 year old twins.

In August of 2009, the divorced father tossed around a football with his 9-year-old twins, Christopher and William, after visiting their grandmother in Newport Beach, California.
The next day, Aug. 30, he played basketball with them before their piano lesson. Their mother, Mei Wang, came by at 6 p.m. that Sunday to pick them up. Ko did the “1, 2, 3” routine with his sons: a tap of foreheads, kisses, and then hugs. “See you Wednesday!” he told them. He didn’t.

On Aug. 31, 2009, when the twins’ mother was supposed to take her sons to school, Wang, 45, instead put them on a plane and fled with them to her native Singapore – defying a court order and launching her ex-husband on an international crusade to get them back.
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