Child Custody Case Study - Part 4 - Marrison Family Law

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Child Custody Case Study - Part 4

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


The Horror When Child Abuse is Ignored

When a child is abused by a parent, most people have a difficult time even getting their heads around the idea. How could a grown person commit such an act against an innocent child, particularly one that is so young and trusting?

Maggie Bright had those exact thoughts when she presented her evidence of child abuse to the court. When she presented her testimony before Judge Bristol, she was sure that the facts, her supporting evidence and suspicions would at least get a fair hearing. But they didn’t.

Marrison Family Law first had to figure out why Judge Bristol and the evaluator Dr. Holmes ignored her abuse claims. Was she a bad witness? Did the state do an incomplete abuse investigation? Was the father’s evidence that strong? There had to be some reason, and answers needed to be found.

The Evidence of Abuse was not Even Taken Seriously

Maggie Bright described that, after Steven Smith’s first visitation in an effort to rebuild his parenting time early in the process, she noticed something was wrong with Ethan.

Her five year-old son had a “red mark” on his back where the child said his dad had “cracked” it. Ethan also came to have some sort of scuff mark or abrasions on the back of his knees. Maggie was dumbfounded, and took pictures of the injuries because she couldn’t figure out what was going on.

When Maggie contacted Steven Smith and asked him about the injuries, the explanation he gave was far from reassuring.

"It was only later on that Ethan said he had been abused."

In 2011, Maggie Bright contacted the state child welfare authorities and claimed Ethan had been abused by his father.

The state’s child protective team that investigated the charge initially heard that Steven Smith had hit the child on the back of the knees with a belt. However, after further investigation the state determined that there was not enough evidence to support Maggie Bright’s first claim of abuse and it was dismissed.

A Second Reported Instance of Alleged Abuse Occurred

Out of nowhere, Ethan began playing inappropriate games with sexual overtones with his brother. When Maggie Bright asked her troubled son what was going on, the young child said he had been inappropriately touched.

It was starting to make sense, and Maggie Bright was horrified. She looked back over Ethan’s young life, and figured that everything was fine up until and around the time he entered pre-kindergarten. Then he first visited Steven Smith, and “there was an extreme amount of change,” according to Maggie Bright, “dramatic” and sexualized.

"...her allegations of physical touching or sexual abuse were dismissed."

Although this time the report to child protective services was made by Ethan’s therapist, again her allegations of physical touching or sexual abuse were later determined to be without sufficient proof and were dismissed.

The Court Appointed Evaluator, Dr. Holmes, Gave Little Credence to Child Abuse Charges

Just a month before her big hearing, Maggie Bright’s case again suffered a serious blow. Dr. Holmes’ final report had been released, and it didn’t look good. In fact, he seemed to turn everything around on Maggie Bright.

Dr. Holmes’ report indicated that:

  • Maggie Bright’s own repeated reports of abuse to authorities were themselves abusive.
  • Maggie Bright’s intentions were to further alienate her child from any relationship with the father Steven Smith.
  • Dr. Holmes had not really spoken to Maggie Bright’s witnesses, including the pre-kindergarten teacher who saw events of school violence occur.
  • The child’s actual condition had not changed, but was just alleged to have changed by an overzealous mother who had lied about Ethan’s condition to keep Steven Smith away from visiting the child.
  • That primary responsibility for Ethan should be transferred to Steven Smith, and the mother’s parenting time be temporarily suspended for six months to allow time for extensive therapy.

There was a lot of evidence that had been brushed aside by Judge Bristol and Dr. Holmes. But for some reason, this child abuse evidence in particular had made no impact at all on either the PRE or trial court judge.

Dr. Holmes’ Reasoning Had to be Attacked

In his report issued just a month before trial, Dr. Holmes was took pains to describe the reasons why he recommended that care for Ethan be transferred to Steven Smith. Dr. Holmes felt Maggie was using the allegations of child abuse to push away the father.

The problem was that Dr. Holmes relied on the theory of “Parental Alienation Syndrome” to explain Maggie Bright’s actions, a controversial idea originated by Richard A. Gardner in the mid 1980s which later had been almost universally discredited.

"...a controversial idea that had been almost universally discredited."

Gardner’s Parental Alienation Syndrome suggested that many cases where a child is alienated from the father are instigated by an “indoctrinating” mother and cooperating child. One way to remedy the problem, according to Gardner, is to place the child with the father, significantly remove the mother’s access to the child, and require the child to be “deprogrammed” through therapy.

The Doctor Said One Thing, but his Recommendations Said Something Entirely Different

In his own defense, Dr. Holmes claimed that he didn’t really believe in Gardner’s original “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” but a derivative theory of “Parental Alienation” by Joan B. Kelly and Janet R. Johnston which placed a much greater emphasis on a “family system” and shared responsibility approach to alienation problems.

But Dr. Holmes’ pre-trial report contradicted his own words. He may have testified in court that he was now a believer in the “reformulated” Parental Alienation theory of Kelly and Johnston.

"Dr. Holmes’ pre-trial report contradicted his own words."

But his final decision to sweep Maggie Bright clear out her role as the primary caregiver, deny visitation for six months and then limit her parenting time to monthly supervised visits revealed Dr. Holmes’ real allegiance, which smacked strongly of Richard Gardner’s discredited vision of “Parental Alienation Syndrome” through use of a virtual “parentectomy.”

Maggie Bright had a Constitutional Right to Stand up and Protect Her Child

Additionally, Marrison Family Law stood firm in support of Maggie Bright’s decision to speak up about her child abuse allegations.

When Maggie Bright was confronted with a child who was suddenly bedwetting, checking the house security system, and demanding to sleep with his mother for safety, she had every right to be concerned, asserted Marrison Family Law.

Maggie was punished for speaking out about her son's abuse.

And how can you stop a mother from yelling from the rooftops about sexual abuse of her child? Maggie Bright felt a moral obligation to protect Ethan, and bring these alleged damaging activities before whoever would hear them.

To punish her now for her vocal efforts to stop what she perceived as severe harm was an unconstitutional invasion of her fundamental right as a parent.

How the Appellate Court Finally Came Around to the Issue

The Court didn’t get into a long final discussion about whether there was any validity to the theory of Parental Alienation, Parental Alienation Syndrome or some other derivative idea. That wasn’t necessary.

However, the appellate court did find that Judge Bristol’s written findings did not support that Maggie Bright’s reporting of child abuse was abusive behavior. Essentially, the appellate court reprimanded Judge Bristol for making decisions about important issues without truly explaining their foundation.

The fact that Maggie Bright and the Marrison Family Law firm were able to bring so much evidence and testimony to bear for the appellate court to review on the child abuse issue could only have helped the appellate court make its decision.

There was no validity to the theory of Parental AlienationParental Alienation Syndrome.

Sometimes, the evidence is strong enough that the decider of fact, like a trial judge, will review information and testimony and reach conclusions that everyone can say are reasonable. Other times, it takes the hard work and focus of dedicated family practitioners like Marrison Family Law to pick through the pieces of earlier failures, and help clients put their best case forward.

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MPatMarrisonFor over a quarter century, we have helped people during what is often the darkest time in their lives. Divorce is not easy even under the best of circumstances. For most people, family is central. Having something go wrong in the family can have a ripple effect that extends beyond the home and into other areas.

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