7-year child custody battle reflects hazards of dysfunction

Nearly every family experiences some sort of dysfunction. In those situations where issues between parents become too great to overcome, a decision to divorce sometimes is made. And one of the issues that can trigger the greatest a level of emotional upheaval is working out matters related to child custody.

The standard the court uses for approving or rejecting child custody decisions in every state, including North Carolina, is to consider what is in the best interest of the child. Of course, that is a broad parameter that can lead to all sorts of interpretations. And if the parents’ relationship is particularly dysfunctional, the children can become unwitting victims of a struggle of wills.

The courts recognize the potential for this and the general consensus among many experts is that everyone can benefit if parents settle on a workable plan through alternative dispute resolution that avoids contentious court fights. When this guidance is ignored, what can happen is what was seen in a recent case out of New York.

The husband and wife had tried to make a go of marriage twice. In 2005, during the second marriage, a son was born. In 2007, the mother filed for divorce. About the same time, she also leveled what were deemed unfounded allegations of abuse. The mother eventually was awarded primary physical and legal custody, but parenting time was to be split equally mom and dad.

But the matter didn’t end there. Court records show that the mother employed what one judge says was an all-out strategy to undermine the relationship between the father and son and strip the father of all custody. The latest battle featured an 18-month trial that concluded with the judge stripping the mother of custody. He said that when it comes to the boy and his father, she can’t be trusted to make dispassionate decisions.

In support of his decision, the judge pointed to the fact that the mother spent tens of thousands of dollars to send her child to a psychologist for weekly sessions over three years that were not needed. The psychologist was then paid another $40,000 to serve as an expert witness for the mother, raising questions of conflict of interest. He also noted that the woman paid an acting coach $57,000 to prepare her for her testimony.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the mother is appealing the judge’s ruling.

Source: New York Law Journal, “Judge Finds Mother “Cannot Be Trusted” With Custody,” John Caher, July 25, 2014