Mothers Of Lost Children – Indiana

Support for Noncustodial Indiana Moms

Archive for March 2009

Free Legal Help on April 14th

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From the Indianapolis Bar Association:

Free Legal Advice Program for the Public: Ask A Lawyer on April 14

Ask A Lawyer — free legal guidance just for you!

Ask A Lawyer is the IBA’s free legal advice program — talk face-to-face with an attorney to get answers to basic legal questions.

Date: Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Time: 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Location: 10 library branches around Indianapolis. See list below.

Attorneys are also available by telephone on April 14 at (317) 269-2000 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Ask A Lawyer will take place at the following Indianapolis-Marion County Pubic Library branches:

2435 N. Sherman Drive

Central Library
40 E. St. Clair St.

College Avenue
4180 N. College Ave.

Easth 38th Street
5420 E. 38th St.

East Washington
2822 E. Washington St.

2121 W. Michigan St.

6525 Zionsville Road

2502 Shelby St.

2630 E. Stop 11 Rd.

West Indianapolis
1216 S. Kappes St.

If you are not from the Indianapolis area, please check your local Bar Association to see if they have a program like this.

The “Safe at Home” Campaign by Joe Torre

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Joseph Paul Torre (pronounced /ˈtɔɹi/) (born July 18, 1940 in Brooklyn, New York) is the current manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and a former Major League Baseball player. He played for the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, New York Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals. He later managed all three teams, as well as the New York Yankees. He had a fairly unimpressive managerial record with the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals, but during Torre’s tenure as manager of the Yankees, from 1996 to 2007, the Yankees reached the post season each year and won ten American League East Division titles, six American League pennants, and four World Series titles, in addition to compiling a .605 winning percentage with them.

With 2,151 wins (through September 28, 2008), he presently ranks 7th in all-time Major League Baseball all-time managerial wins.


California Just as Bad as Indiana When it Comes to Those Whores of the Court

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These women entered mediation in family court thinking they would retain primary custody of their children. Mediator Janelle Burrill thought otherwise.

By Chrisanne Beckner
More stories by this author…
This article was published on 03.21.02.

From left: Jacque Vorce, Bet Kolstad (seated), Victoria Garay, Susan Cremins and Karen Anderson: five women who came together to fight against the family court’s decision to give primary custody of their children to their ex-husbands.

High-conflict divorces are often characterized by contentious disputes between adults who can feel so betrayed that anything and everything they can get their hands on becomes a weapon. Money for litigation becomes a weapon, custody of the minors becomes a weapon, the minors themselves may become weapons.

Some parents enter litigation to increase custody and find themselves embroiled in lengthy legal battles that drain their financial resources, create new conflicts, and subject the children to erratic visitation schedules. It can be a nightmare for the families, but billable hours for some legal and psychological professionals.

In some high-conflict cases, each parent retains an attorney, and a third attorney may be appointed to represent the children. Often, therapy is recommended for all family members. A judge is appointed to the case, and whenever parents cannot agree on custody, the judge orders that they attend mediation. If the mediator finds one parent unfit, the mediator’s report to the judge may recommend only limited visitation for that parent. The judge might even agree that visitation should be supervised. The parent will then pay a supervisor to watch over every detail of every parent-child interaction—such a ruling often leads the family back to court to argue yet again.

If there are issues of psychological illness or abuse, psychologists may conduct evaluations, psychiatrists may prescribe medication, and Child Protective Services social workers may investigate allegations from concerned family members.

These cases can become so complex and layered that the professionals themselves become entangled. They may even become targets of anger, suspicion and allegations.

Such a situation is brewing in the Sacramento area’s family court system. Currently, six women in and around Sacramento have come together to help each other and to submit formal written complaints to the California Board of Behavioral Sciences against Janelle Burrill, a licensed clinical social worker who acts as a mediator for high-conflict custody cases.

The board has received some of the complaints from the women and started a review. The Sacramento News & Review brought the complaints to Burrill’s attention, but she has not responded to our request for comment.

Accusations against Burrill have not been proved, and it’s difficult to determine precisely what went on during a specific custody case due to the volume of conflicting statements in the court record from friends, family members, attorneys, psychologists and other interested parties. Much of that information is confidential.

While the women wait for the results of the review, some of them continue to fight their ex-spouses in court to regain custody of their children. Perhaps the most tenacious of these mothers battling to get custody of her kids back is Jacquelyn Vorce.

On November 19, 2001, Vorce, a tall, blond mother of three, sat looking tense and slightly preoccupied in department 124 of the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse in Sacramento. It looked as if it took great effort to keep her face so perfectly still, and her emotions in check. Across the aisle, her ex-husband and her estranged sister sat shoulder to shoulder. Vorce imagined them aligned against her.

“This case is going to go to trial,” said Judge Maryanne G. Gilliard, apparently irritated, “as I thought it would the first day these folks walked into this department. The issue for the court this morning, really, is what we’re going to do in the interim.”

Vorce had been the primary custodian of her two youngest children, aged 8 and 9, until a report by mediator Janelle Burrill in July 2001 recommended that primary custody shift to Vorce’s ex-husband, Gerald Arthur, who previously only had custody approximately 20 percent of the time.

Vorce’s oldest son, Brian, was already 18 and not a party in the custody battle, which focused on the two younger children, Katie and Dean. Though Brian was not a party in the case, his relationship with his mother had been contentious and volatile, which concerned mediators who had tried to assess Vorce’s parenting skills.

According to Vorce, Burrill was in fact the fifth mediator to try and forge a lasting parenting agreement between Arthur and Vorce.

Burrill was charged with the job of submitting reports to the family courts that detail her recommendations for custody. Judges may give significant weight to mediators’ recommendations, as they are the end result of a lengthy review of the situation.

Two previous mediator reports had recommended Vorce retain primary custody, but she chose to go back to mediation in order to argue for an additional weekend with her children each month in exchange for less parenting time in the summer. To help resolve the issue, she and Arthur entered into mediation with Burrill.

Instead of gaining more parenting time, Vorce had now been limited to only one hour of supervised visitation every week. Arthur was under the same constraints. In an unusual twist, the court had ordered that the children live temporarily with Vorce’s estranged sister.

In an interview, the father explained why. Arthur said that his children had become colder toward him in recent years, and that the situation was peaking during last summer. Arthur felt that Vorce was actively sabotaging his relationship with his children by criticizing him in front of them and filling their heads with misinformation about him. According to Arthur, this behavior culminated in a false allegation stating that he had physically abused his daughter.

Jacque Vorce has four hours of visitation with her two youngest children each week. She refers to documents in her court record to prove that she was treated unfairly during mediation with her ex-husband.



Vorce’s side of the story is detailed in a police report filed on July 22, after she and her current husband, Gary, retrieved the two younger children from their weekend visit with Arthur. The police report reads as follows: “[Gary] stated that when he and his wife (The victim’s natural mother), picked up the children from their father, ‘they quickly began telling [the Vorces] about Katelyn being hit with a belt by their father.’ ”

In an interview, Arthur adamantly denied the allegation, claiming that he would never use a belt on his children.

Burrill was about to recommend to the court that Arthur receive primary custody, but the police report so complicated things that the judge decided to place the children with Vorce’s sister in Folsom temporarily.

When the district attorney decided not to prosecute, the parties came back to court to discuss Burrill’s recommendation that the children live primarily with Arthur.

Accusing Vorce of “parental alienation,” Burrill determined that it was safer for the children to reside with Arthur than with a mother who might have encouraged her children to make false allegations.

Paired with other complaints against Vorce detailed in the court record, mostly pertaining to poor impulse control, excessive displays of emotion, and a troubled history with her family, this allegation of alienation threatened to severely limit her parenting time.

With a variety of conflicting reports and statements to rely on, Judge Gilliard had to decide what to do.

Vorce’s attorney, Richard Sokol, reminded the judge that Burrill’s report had not yet been adopted by the court, and it was questionable whether Vorce was really guilty of alienation. He referred to statements made by Vorce’s therapist, forensic psychologist Dr. Theron Kinsey.

In a letter to Judge Gilliard dated November 16, Kinsey stated, “even by the most liberal definition of alienation, the behaviors cited in this case do not meet the criteria for severe or extreme alienation.”

Sokol said that Kinsey had examined the statements and interviewed witnesses and thought the children belonged with their mother.

“I think it’s irresponsible,” Judge Gilliard replied, “for a doctor, or for any professional, to recommend that without having spoken with the father … [Kinsey’s] report, or whatever you want to call it, is not very valuable or helpful to this court.”

Though Gilliard leaned toward giving primary custody to Arthur, who lived in Pleasanton, she didn’t want the children to have to get used to a new school in the Bay Area. Their school in Placer County, she claimed, had been the one constant for them.

Gilliard decided that only if Arthur found a residence in the Sacramento area and took responsibility for getting the children to their usual school, would she transfer custody to him.

Arthur and his attorney, Matthew Gary, agreed to these stipulations.

Vorce’s visits were increased to four hours a week, but she remained on supervised visitation. Visitation Supervisor Bijili Abbey would continue to watch over all interaction, ensuring that Vorce spoke and acted appropriately and did not criticize or otherwise disparage Arthur in front of the children. This cost Vorce $50 an hour.

The judge addressed the parents directly.

“This case is just horrendous,” she told them. “By the time your children have graduated from high school … you will have seen every potential psychologist and psychiatrist and evaluator in the family law sphere.”

When Vorce rose to leave the courtroom, friends who’d come to show their support filed out behind her and then squeezed into a small conference room adjacent to the courtroom. They listened sympathetically to her discussion with Sokol.

The judge had ordered an evidentiary hearing, said Sokol, which meant that Vorce would have a chance to present evidence in her defense. He said the judge could have adopted the mediator’s report, but she’d chosen not to.

Victoria Garay also believes that if she had been treated fairly during mediation, she would still have primary custody of her son.



Vorce was unable to see this as progress. She shook as she listened. She clenched her fists and tried to control her grief, but quickly she spun into explosive rage.

She couldn’t afford more supervised visits, she cried. She couldn’t even afford Sokol. The Vorces estimate they they’ve spent $37,000 on this case so far.

Vorce was overwhelmed. She began to imagine nightmarish violent scenarios involving her children. The idea that she couldn’t protect them from anything threw her into hysteria. She blamed everyone. She blamed the children’s attorney, Arthur and even her own attorney.

“Who’s going to be the judge for the evidentiary hearing,” she yelled, “Miss Dit-Wit in there?”

Gary Vorce, who was often a calming influence, begged his wife to quiet down.

“What will happen to Dean and Katie,” said Vorce, straining her head forward, pleading with Sokol, “is that they’ll shut down, close up and they’ll never speak again!”

Sokol spoke to her gently, reminding Vorce that she had to reconnect with her faith in God. “Is there a God in the world?” he asked her, as if he were consoling a wounded child.

Gary Vorce held his wife’s head to his chest while she cried. Slowly, with the support of friends, she recovered enough to leave the courthouse.

Though Vorce was badly shaken by the court’s decision, she appeared calm and untroubled during a recent visit with her children. She took them to a local apartment clubhouse where she could warm up their dinner in the tiny kitchen and eat with them after reviewing their homework.

Katie hung playfully on her mother’s arms. Vorce lifted her up and cuddled her. “I love you princess,” she said warmly, “I could just squeeze you to pieces.”

According to the children’s attorney, the supervisor reported that Vorce behaved appropriately for the most part during visitations.

At home, Vorce kept the children’s rooms neat. The homemade curtains and the hand-painted furniture resembled those highlighted in decorators’ magazines. Stuffed animals of all sizes spilled across the children’s beds. The awards she’d saved from school claimed that Dean excelled in physical fitness training and Katie was a whiz at math.

Though it often took time for Vorce to fully recover from hearings like the one in department 124, this time was slightly different. Through an acquaintance, she heard a rumor that another mother was complaining about losing primary custody after mediation with Burrill. Like Vorce, Susan Cremins questioned whether she’d been treated fairly.

Cremins had also been part of a high-conflict custody battle. She and her husband had disagreed bitterly over the best interests of their three sons. Cremins now had full custody of her oldest, but Burrill had recommended only occasional visitation with her two youngest sons. Cremins, like Vorce, felt she’d been unfairly accused of parental alienation.

The women realized that if they had such similar negative experiences, maybe they weren’t the only ones.

Internet searches by the women yielded a Web site called “Child Custody Consultant.” On it, a message from Julie Telgenhoff, dated May 21, 2001, gave a critical account of her mediation process with Burrill, claiming that Burrill had unfairly recommended primary custody for her ex-husband. She asked if there were other women out there who had had Burrill as a mediator.

Another Web site, called “Child Custody Help,” included a message dated September 27, 2001, from yet another mom who was not only accusing Burrill of unethical conduct, but wondering if others wanted to join her in filing a complaint. It gathered a string of responses. Victoria Garay wrote, “YOU ARE GOD SENT.” She too had lost primary custody of one of her children after mediation with Burrill.

All together, four women with similar complaints against Burrill made contact through these two sites before Burrill responded. On December 14, she filed a civil suit against Garay and Telgenhoff for “damages re: defamation [libel]; intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.” The suit claimed that Burrill asked both women to remove their messages, but they had refused.

When asked whether she or her lawyer for the suit, John O’Donnell, would like to comment on it, Burrill responded with an e-mail stating, “There are no lawsuits against Telgenhoff or Garay.” As of the date this newspaper went to press, the case, number 01AS07659, exists and is still open, according to the records at the Sacramento County Courthouse. O’Donnell chose not to return phone calls, but sent an e-mail on March 18 stating, “there was a Request For Dismissal filed with the court. It apparently has not made its way to the file yet.”

Karen Anderson also lost primary custody of her children. She believes that the court system has been destroyed by the intrusion of the mental health system.



The complaint stated that both defendants “caused numerous defamatory statements concerning the Plaintiff to be posted, claiming that the Plaintiff was guilty of acts which, if true, would constitute criminal conduct … the Plaintiff has suffered a loss of her reputation, shame, mortification, significant emotional distress …” The complaint signified that others could be charged in the same suit.

Telgenhoff was served in February, but Garay has not been.

As the women continued to research custody battles in the Sacramento courts, they began to hear a lot about a woman named Karen Anderson. She had brought a good deal of attention to the Sacramento family court system in the past by lobbying for legislation which limited the court’s ability to order supervised visits for parents who accuse their exes during custody disputes of sexually abusing their children. Anderson too had lost primary custody of her children. Burrill had not been the mediator on her case, but Anderson had been a patient of Burrill’s and had multiple complaints that she was willing to document and submit to the licensing board.

As their numbers grew, the women decided to do more than talk by phone. They set a meeting for January 24 at Vorce’s house, where they planned to discuss how to get their kids back.

One of the first things the mothers had to do was investigate the accusations against them. What exactly was “parental alienation”?

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a new phenomenon in the family courts. The brainchild of Dr. Richard Gardner, it seeks to explain why some children cling to one parent after divorce and refuse a healthy relationship with the other. Gardner believes that sometimes one parent, usually a mom with primary custody, intentionally or unintentionally influences the child by criticizing the former spouse, making false allegations of abuse, or coaching the child to make false allegations. In the most severe cases, Gardner claims, the children panic at the thought of visitations with the non-custodial parent. They may thrash, scream, and absolutely refuse to go. Rather than feeling some ambiguity, they claim to hate the other parent. Asked why, they may site small or insignificant mistakes the parent has made.

Arthur has stated in an interview that he and his children have consistently enjoyed a fairly good relationship, with some tension and coldness, which would suggest that the children were not the victims of severe alienation.

Gardner believes that in the most severe cases of alienation, the most effective treatment is to remove the child from the influence of the parent doing the alienating. Then, perhaps, the child will bond again with the other, alienated parent.

Though Gardner was not the first psychologist to notice signs of alienating behavior in divorcing parents, he was the first to label it a syndrome.

His critics say that there has been little if any empirical research to support the existence of PAS, but the theory has somehow worked its way into the system as a viable piece of science. When used against mothers during conflicted custody battles, it has proved difficult to fight.

When contacted, Shirley Pickens, another Sacramento mediator, didn’t recall ever hearing of Dr. Gardner’s theories regarding PAS, though she was very familiar with alienating behavior, citing various examples. She said that some parents even attempt to sway her to their side with flattery. She seemed to agree with other legal and psychological professionals contacted by the SN&R who stated that often in high-conflict cases, one or both parents might try to align their children with themselves.

Authors Janet Johnston and Vivienne Roseby wrote a book called In the Name of the Child: A Developmental Approach to Understanding and Helping Children of Conflicted and Violent Divorce, in which the authors also accept the idea of alienation, but suggest that it’s not just one parent’s fault, nor is it often serious enough to reverse custody.

“It’s our observation that alienated parents are often rather inept and unempathetic with their youngsters,” wrote Johnston and Roseby.

They go on to say that after divorce, fathers sometimes become offended when their children seem to prefer their mothers. They may relentlessly pursue the child in an attempt to re-establish a strong bond. Sometimes they try to bully the child into a loving relationship, which may result in even greater resistance.

Though the merits of PAS are still up for discussion between psychological and legal professionals, if a mediator on a specific case believes it exists, that may be all that matters. A judge reading a mediator’s report may not know of the background or the controversy surrounding PAS.

The first meeting between Vorce and the other mothers was supremely disorganized. Women who’d been commiserating over the phone were all of a sudden vying for attention around Vorce’s dining table. Pacing occasionally, snacking on chips and sweets, and cooing over pictures of each other’s children, they listened only intermittently to one another’s stories.

As the evening wore on, the women grew increasingly sentimental.

Many of the women held staunchly traditional values. Their husbands had been the breadwinners; the women had been the professional moms, they said. The fathers may have been loving parents, but they weren’t trained to be attentive parents.

“I know he loves his son,” said Garay of her ex-husband.

Susan Cremins was granted primary custody of her oldest son, but only limited visitation with her two youngest.



“Is that love?” Anderson replied wryly, pointing out that the father did request full custody.

“That’s ownership,” scoffed Vorce. Then she raised her voice to get everyone’s attention. “Once you turn a child into a tool,” she said, “you can’t truly love that child.”

The women did not consider whether they themselves might have used their children as tools against their exes when they had custody.

“It used to be just the parents and a judge,” said Anderson. “Now, there’s mediators, court-appointed attorneys … how do they get paid,” she asked, “if we don’t keep going in there?”

This idea struck a chord. When the women tallied up the costs of litigation, their estimates ranged from $1,000 to almost $250, 000.

“What has destroyed the court system is the intrusion of the mental health system,” said one.

“ ‘Alienation’ is the court’s tool against moms,” said another.

“I understand what it’s like to want to hurt somebody,” whispered a third, and the rest grew quiet. “I’m like a wild animal protecting my child in the corner.”

Vorce seemed changed by this meeting. She seemed to accept that there would be a life past litigation, and that she and Gary and her children would still have lots of good times together. But in order for this to happen, she would somehow have to win the right to co-parent again. She started considering ways to get the word out about cases like hers.

On January 30, concerned parents, grandparents and godparents packed a County Board of Supervisors meeting regarding Child Protective Services policy. In roughly five hours of testimony, they turned a simple policy review from director Jim Hunt into an opportunity for full-scale condemnation of CPS. Families, especially those who had lost custody of their children due to a history with drugs or allegations of abuse, saw the agency as just a swollen bureaucracy with the power to separate them from their children, similar to the way Vorce and the others viewed the family court system.

Anderson waited through hours of testimony and then approached the podium. Standing before the board, she introduced herself as the director of the California Protective Parents Association and said she could prove that one of the therapists in Sacramento (not Burrill) had falsified letters to the court. She claimed that the therapist, who offered reunification services for families, was in fact keeping families from reunifying so that she could continue to profit off their cases. “If you have social workers that are lying, falsifying reports and threatening people,” she said, “those are criminal issues.”

Supervisor Roger Dickinson addressed Anderson as she was completing her testimony.

“These are pretty serious allegations you’re tossing around,” he said. “You should march over to the District Attorney’s Office and make that evidence available. Otherwise, notwithstanding the fact that this is a protected forum, I think you would exercise better judgment and not make those kinds of allegations.”

Anderson’s voice rose aggressively. “We do have evidence,” she said.

“Then take it to the district attorney. … Don’t go around making allegations about social workers and county employees on a wholesale basis. Don’t do it,” Dickinson warned her.

Anderson stated that she would go to the DA and return with a report on what the DA’s Office planned to do about it. As she exited, the audience gave her a round of applause.

Victoria Garay was one of the last to address the Board.

“CPS, the court system, the mediators, attorneys,” she said, “they’ve taken away our rights as parents.”

She looked directly at Dickinson. She told him that she wished he was as passionate about preventing false allegations against parents as he was about preventing false allegations against social workers.

Jacque and Gary Vorce prepare to file complaints against the mediator who recommended limited visitation for Jacque and her two youngest children.



Dickinson appeared unmoved.

Anderson and Garay may have actively voiced their concerns, but it did little to help them get custody of their children. Collectively, the women decided it was time to turn their verbal complaints into formal written complaints and submit them to the appropriate review boards.

On a night in February, the women gathered again at the Vorces’ house and greeted one other quickly. Done with the initial commiserating, the women were now more interested in sharing news. Anderson brought in an article about women in other states who were facing the same challenges they were. Visitor Mary Kravitz had prepared a talk based on a book called Legal Abuse Syndrome. She wanted to share coping strategies.

Some of the women came with prepared formal complaints against Burrill. All that was left was to identify the appropriate licensing agencies.

Telgenhoff arrived a little late. As concerned as she was about filing the formal complaints, she had a new issue: someone had apparently called CPS on her. A CPS social worker had just interviewed her son at school. Sitting primly on the edge of a chair, Telgenhoff looked scared. She also had to worry about Burrill’s civil suit against her.

The women discussed this and other new information until Gary Vorce called the meeting to order and briefed the group on how to file their complaints. Burrill was licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences, he said, so that was the first place to go.

The women gave copies of their formal complaints to Gary Vorce and the discussion moved on to a new topic. Since Burrill had apparently filed a suit against Garay and Telgenhoff, he wanted the women to consider filing cross-complaints in response. Gary Vorce had already contacted a lawyer and was trying to raise enough money for the retainer. Doing much of the legal research, he had become as involved as any of the women.

The first four formal complaints to the Board of Behavioral Sciences equaled 22 pages’ worth of allegations against Burrill. The complaints were various, but they showed striking similarities. Since the women prepared them individually, the formats differed along with the writing style and the detailed accusation, but it was clear that the women had reviewed the rules that should govern a mediator’s conduct and then collected examples from their own cases of how they thought those rules had been breached.

The most common complaint claimed that Burrill “failed to remain neutral during the entire mediation process.” For example, Telgenhoff claimed that Burrill, “solicited only positive information regarding the father; solicited only negative information regarding me.” Cremins claimed that, “she let my ex-husband go on at length, and when my turn to talk came up she constantly interrupted me, by defending my ex-husband and stopping the conversation.”

The women also accused Burrill of losing or not consulting the evidence they provided. Vorce claimed that Burrill, “lost the collateral witness sign off sheets provided by me during our first meeting.” Anderson claimed, “I inquired of Ms. Burrill if she had read the documents I had provided to her on my first visit. Ms. Burrill denied having ever received the documents, and stated to me that if I wanted her to read them, I would have to again provide her with copies.”

Perhaps the most disturbing complaints centered on diagnosis. According to the mothers, they felt as if their mental health and the mental health of their children were in question. Their complaints against the mediator used almost identical language on this point. Vorce claimed that Burrill, “diagnosed medical symptoms and recommended treatment for me i.e.; Bi-polar, PAS without any medical or professional documentation to substantiate her statements.” Telgenhoff claimed Burrill, “made psychiatric diagnosis of me (i.e. bipolar) and suggested her own treatment (i.e. mood stabilizers) without any professional medical documentation to support her diagnosis. This was completely reckless and harmful and was not in her professional jurisdiction.” Cremins also claimed that Burrill, “diagnosed medical symptoms in regards to our oldest son. i.e. BI-polar without any medical or professional documentation.”

In the last five years, the Board has received about 3,000 complaints against its licensees. Disciplinary action has been taken in roughly five percent of them.

Burrill has chosen not to respond to the Sacramento News & Review’s request for comment regarding these complaints.

Within a few days, the women began receiving letters from the California Board of Behavioral Sciences saying their claims had been received and were in the process of being reviewed. That accomplished, they turned their attention to keeping up their battles in court.

On March 11, Vorce walked into court with modest goals. She hoped to significantly increase visitation and she didn’t want to be supervised.

Her attorney Sokol had in recent weeks laid down some of Vorce’s concerns in statements to the court and letters to the children’s attorney. He came to court demanding that custody revert back to the mother, based on the claim that Burrill’s report was biased.

Even Vorce’s more modest goals proved unattainable.

Though the children’s attorney, Jill Barr, was on record saying that unsupervised visitation was appropriate, Arthur’s new attorney, Paul Brinberry, suggested the issues were so serious that Vorce must remain supervised until she followed the recommendations of her therapist, Kinsey. Specifically, they wanted her on psychotropic drugs. Vorce visibly bristled. This had been an issue of continuous debate. She felt that the request, if met, would be used against her. She thought Arthur’s side would say she was dependent on meds and was therefore unfit to parent.

Sokol reminded the court that Kinsey had left it up to Vorce whether to try psychotropic medications to stabilize her emotions and moods. Judge Peter McBrien, newly appointed to the case, took the middle road. If Kinsey sent a letter to the children’s attorney saying that Vorce had met all of his recommendations regarding medication, Barr had the authority to switch the visits to an average of five hours a week unsupervised.

Again, Vorce kept herself under control until she got out of the courtroom. Again, her anger was explosive. Even if Kinsey got the letter to Barr today, she yelled, Barr could sit on it as long as she wanted. Instead of seeing any hope, Vorce chastised Sokol for keeping them on the defensive without once questioning the father’s parenting skills.

Garay, who had come to be supportive, shook her head calmly. “She was attacked in there,” she said.

Gary Vorce pulled his wife aside and out of earshot. They could be heard arguing.

Though this hearing was just one more in a long series of hearings, and though Vorce was again panicking over the expense and the emotional strain of fighting for her children, she was obviously unbeaten. She may need help from therapists and lawyers, she may have suffered through strife and conflict within her family, and she may in fact exhibit poor impulse control, but so do a lot of people who continue to actively and effectively parent their children.

At least she had the help of other women who knew just how she felt.

The Batterer as Parent

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by Lundy Bancroft

Research on children’s exposure to domestic violence has tended to focus primarily on two aspects of their experience: the trauma of witnessing physical assaults against their mother, and the tension produced by living with a high level of conflict between their parents. 1 However, these are just two elements of a much deeper problem pervading these children’s daily life, which is that they are living with a batterer. The parenting of men who batterer exposes children to multiple potential sources of emotional and physical injury, most of which have not been recognized widely.

This article looks at the characteristics of men who batter and identifies ways in which these characteristics also influence their ability to parent appropriately. Additionally, the article will address the implications of such parenting for child protective and custody determinations.

Characteristics of Men Who Batter

Most of the characteristics that are typical of men who batter have potential ramifications for children in the home. Batterers often tend toward authoritarian, neglectful, and verbally abusive child-rearing.2 The effects on the children of these and other parenting weaknesses may be intensified by the children’s prior traumatic experience of witnessing violence.3 Consider the following selected examples of characteristics of men who batter:

Control: Coerciveness is widely recognized as a central quality of battering men,4 and one of the areas of life heavily controlled by many men who batterer is the mother’s parenting. A man who batters may cause or forbid his partner to terminate a pregnancy, overrule her parenting decisions, or assault her when he is angry over the children’s behavior. Battered women are far more likely than other mothers to feel that they have to alter their parenting styles when their partners are present.5

Entitlement: A man who batters considers himself entitled to a special status within the family, with the right to use violence when he deems it necessary.6 This outlook of entitlement can lead to selfish and self-centered behavior on his part. For example, he may become irate or violent when he feels that his partner is paying more attention to the children than to him. It is difficult for children to have their needs met in such an atmosphere and they are vulnerable to role-reversal, where they are made to feel responsible to take care of the battering parent.

Possessiveness: Men who batter often have been observed to perceive their partners as owned objects.7 This possessive outlook can sometimes extend to their children, partly accounting for the dramatically elevated rates of physical abuse8 and sexual abuse9 of children perpetrated by batterers, and for the fact that these men seek custody of their children more often than non-battering fathers do.10

Other characteristics that can have an important impact on children include manipulativeness, denial and minimization of the abuse, battering in multiple relationships, and resistance to change.

Influence of Battering on Parenting

The characteristics discussed above influence the parenting of men who batter and have a negative impact on the children by:

  • creating role models that perpetuate the violence
  • undermining the mother’s authority
  • retaliating against the mother for her efforts to protect the children
  • sowing divisions within the family
  • using the children as weapons against the mother

Creating role models that perpetuate the violence:
Boys who are exposed to domestic violence show dramatically elevated rates of battering their own partners as adolescents or adults.11 Research suggests that this connection is a product more of the values and attitudes that boys learn from witnessing battering behavior than of the emotional trauma of being exposed to such abuse.12 Daughters of battered women show increased difficulty in escaping partner abuse in their adult relationships.13 Both boys and girls have been observed to accept various aspects of the batterer’s belief-system,14 including the view that victims of violence are to blame, that women exaggerate hysterically when they report abuse, and that males are superior to females.

Undermining the mother’s authority: Domestic violence is inherently destructive to maternal authority because the batterer’s verbal abuse and violence provide a model for children of contemptuous and aggressive behavior toward their mother. The predictable result, confirmed by many studies, is that children of battered women have increased rates of violence and disobedience toward their mothers. 15 Some battered mothers make reports of being prevented from picking up a crying infant or from assisting a frightened or injured child and of being barred from providing other basic physical, emotional, or even medical care. Interference of this kind can cause the children to feel that their mother does not care about them or is unreliable. The batterer may reinforce those feelings by verbally conditioning the children through statements such as, “Your mother doesn’t love you,” or, “Mommy only cares about herself.”

Retaliating against her for her efforts to protect the children: A mother may find that she is assaulted or intimidated if she attempts to prevent the batterer from mistreating the children, or may find that he harms the children more seriously to punish her for standing up for them. Therefore, she may be forced over time to stop intervening on her children’s behalf. This dynamic can lead children to perceive their mother as uncaring about the batterer’s mistreatment of them, and can contribute to her being labeled by child protective services as “failing to protect.”

Sowing divisions with the family: Some batterers use favoritism to build a special relationship with one child in the family. As some researchers have noted, the favored child is particularly likely to be a boy, and the batterer may bond with him partly through encouraging a sense of superiority to females.16 Batterers also may create or feed familial tensions deliberately. These manipulative behaviors are a likely factor in the high rate of inter-sibling conflict and violence observed in families exposed to battering behavior.17

Using the children as weapons: Many men who batter use children as a vehicle to harm or control the mother18 through such tactics as destroying the children’s belongings to punish the mother, requiring the children to monitor and report on their mother’s activities, or threatening to kidnap or take custody of the children if the mother attempts to end the relationship. These parenting behaviors draw the children into the abuser’s behavior pattern. Post-separation, many batterers use unsupervised visitation as an opportunity to further abuse the mother through the children. 19

Implications for Child Protective and Custody Determinations

Determinations regarding child protection, custody, and visitation in the context of domestic violence need to be informed by an awareness of the destructive parenting behaviors exhibited by many men who batter, and their effects on children and their mothers. These behaviors have especially important implications for children who are struggling with two sets of psychological injuries, one from exposure to the battering behavior and the other from their parents’ divorce or separation. Some elements to examine closely when crafting interventions for families include:

Addressing the healing needs of children: There is a wide consensus that children’s recovery from exposure to domestic violence (and from divorce) depends largely on the quality of their relationship with the non-battering parent and with their siblings.20 Therefore, in addition to safety consideration, court determinations should take into account whether the batterer is likely, based on his past and current behavior, to continue to undermine the mother’s authority, interfere with mother-child relationships, or cause tensions between siblings. Because children need a sense of safety in order to heal,21 juvenile and family court decisions may not want to include leaving the children in the unsupervised care of a man whose violent tendencies they have witnessed, even if they feel a strong bond of affection for him.

Making appropriate assessments, especially in custody determinations: A batterer’s history of abusive behavior, and how such abuse reflects on his parenting, needs to be investigated carefully, assessing for the presence of any of the common problems described above and paying particular attention to that children may become a vehicle for continued abuse of the mother.22 Courts need to ensure that custody evaluators have extensive training on the multiple sources of risk to children from custody or unsupervised contact with the abusive parent.

Safely fostering father-child relationships: Except in cases where the children are terrified of the battering parent or have been abused by him directly, children tend to desire some degree of ongoing contact with their fathers. Such contact can be beneficial as long as adequate safety measures are provided for the mother and children and the abuser is not given the opportunity to cause set-backs to the children’s emotional recovery. These goals can be fostered through custody arrangements that take into full consideration the violence in the home caused by the battering parent and through the use of professionally supervised visitation, ideally based in a visitation center. Where unsupervised visitation is found to be safe, the use of relatively short visits that do not include overnight visits can reduce the batterer’s ability to damage mother-child relationship, limit his negative influence on the children’s behavior and value-systems, and ensure that the children feel safe and secure—while still allowing them to feel a continued connection to their father.

The Batterer As Parent,  by Lundy Bancroft


1. See for example, Rossman, R., Hughes, H., & Rosenberg, M. (2000). Children and interparental violence: The impact of exposure. Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel.

2. Bancroft, L. & Silverman, J. (2002). The batterer as parent: Addressing the impact of domestic violence on family dynamics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

3. Margolin, G., John, R., Ghosh, C., & Gordis, E. (1996). Family interaction process: An essential tool for exploring abusive relationships. In D. Cahn & S. Lloyd (Eds.), Family violence from a communication perspective (pp. 37-58). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

4. Lloyd, S., & Emery, B. (2000). The dark side of courtship: Physical and sexual aggression. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

5. Holden, G. & Ritchie, K. (1991). Linking extreme marital discord, child rearing, and child behavior problems: Evidence from battered women. Child Development, 62, 311-327.

6. Silverman, J., & Williamson, G. (1997). Social ecology and entitlements involved in battering by heterosexual college males: Contributions of family and peers. Violence and Victims, 12(2), 147-164.

7. Adams, D. (1991). Empathy and entitlement: A comparison of battering and nonbattering husbands. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. (Available from Emerge, 2380 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA, 02140.); Lloyd & Emery, op. cit.

8. E.g. Straus, M. (1990). Ordinary violence, child abuse, and wife-beating: What do they have in common? In M. Straus & R. Gelles (Eds.), Physical Violence in American Families (pp. 403-424). New Brunswick: Transition; Suh, E., & Abel, E.M. (1990). The impact of spousal violence on the children of the abused. Journal of Independent Social Work, 4(4), 27-34; and several other studies.

9. E.g. McCloskey, L.A., Figueredo, A.J., & Koss, M. (1995). The effect of systemic family violence on children’s mental health. Child Development, 66, 1239-1261; Paveza, G. (1988). Risk factors in father-daughter child sexual abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 3(3), 290-306; and several other studies.

10. American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family (1996). Violence and the family. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

11. Hotaling, G., & Sugarman, D. (1986). An analysis of risk markers in husband to wife violence: The current state of knowledge. Violence and Victims, 1(2), 101-124; Silverman & Williamson, op. cit.

12. Silverman & Williamson, op. cit.

13. Doyne, S., Bowermaster, J., Meloy, R., Dutton, D., Jaffe, P., Temko, S., & Mones, P. (1999). Custody disputes involving domestic violence: Making children’s needs a priority. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 50(2), 1-12; Hotaling & Sugarman, op. cit.

14. Hurley, D.J., & Jaffe, P. (1990). Children’s observations of violence: II. Clinical implications for children’s mental health professionals. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 35(6), 471-476.

15. Jaffe, P., & Geffner, R. (1998). Child custody disputes and domestic violence: Critical issues for mental health, social service, and legal professionals. In G. Holden, R. Geffner, & E. Jouriles (Eds.), Children exposed to marital violence: Theory, research, and applied issues (pp. 371-408). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; Dutton, M.A. (1992). Empowering and healing the battered woman. New York: Springer.

16. See for example Johnston, J., & Campbell, L. (1993b). Parent-child relationships in domestic violence families disputing custody. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 31(3), 282-298. (Johnston & Campbell seem to overlook the implications of many of their own observations – see Bancroft & Silverman, op. cit., for an extended discussion.)

17. op. cit.

18. Erickson, J., & Henderson, A. (1998). “Diverging realities: Abused women and their children. In J. Campbell (Ed.), Empowering survivors of abuse: Health care for battered women and their children (pp. 138-155). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

19. Bancroft & Silverman, op. cit.

20. See review of studies in Heller, S., Larrieu, J., D’Imperio, R., & Boris, N. (1998). Research on resilience to child maltreatment: Empirical considerations. Child Abuse and Neglect, 23(4) 321-338.

21. van der Kolk, B., & McFarlane, A. (1996). The black hole of trauma. In B. van der Kolk, A. McFarlane, & L. Weisaeth (Eds.), Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society (pp. 3-23). New York: Guilford.

22. For a detailed assessment guide, see Chapter 7 of Bancroft & Silverman, op. cit.
Copyright © 2006 Synergy 6(1) P 6-8 Ncjfcj Newsletter

The Mom Song

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What else can I say…if these girls had been through the family courts in Indiana, they probably wouldn’t have a mother around to sing to.

The Bond Between Mother and Child

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From APA Online:

The bond between mother and child

Research shows that without a secure motherly attachment, children’s bodies activate a stress reaction to unexpected events.

By Beth Azar
Monitor staff

With the cutting of the umbilical cord, physical attachment to our mothers ends and emotional and psychological attachment begins. While the first attachment provides everything we need to thrive inside the womb, many psychologists believe the second attachment provides the psychological foundation and maybe even the social and physical buffer we need to thrive in the world. 

Psychologists’ research shows that the quality of care infants receive affects how they later get along with friends, how well they do in school and how they react to new, and possibly stressful, situations.

The psychological construct of attachment, developed in the late 1950s, describes how babies become attached to their primary-care giver, usually their mothers. Securely attached babies consider ‘Mom’ a safe base from which to explore their environment.

They gain assurance from her presence and use her as a source of comfort when they are distressed or upset. Insecurely attached babies seek comfort from their mothers, but gain less assurance from her.

Attachments infants and children form with other primary-care providers also affect a child’s development, research shows. The nature and impact of such attachments have become a focus for researchers interested in the increase in daycare for very young children. 

Social development

Many researchers have found correlations between secure mother-infant attachment and later psychological and social development. Infants who securely attach to their mothers become more self-reliant toddlers and have a better sense of self-esteem, said Alan Sroufe, PhD, an attachment researcher at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota.He’s been following a group of 180 disadvantaged children-now age 19-since before birth, looking at mother-infant attachment and multiple developmental measures such as the kids’ expectations from relationships with parents and friends. He’s also looking at the children’s life stress, success in school and peer relationships.

Sroufe has found that even though these children lead unstable lives, if they had a secure mother-infant attachment they were likely to be self-reliant into adolescence, have lower rates of psychopathology, enjoy successful peer relationships through age 16 and do well in school-especially in math-at all ages.

Sroufe doesn’t think infant attachment affects aptitude, but he believes it affects confidence, attitude and, subsequently, attendance and achievement.

His sample has more life stress and less social support than the average, middle-class samples most researchers study. He’s found that this stress-including instability and loss-can deflect even the most positive life course.

‘Kids who had secure attachment histories but suffer losses will become less secure,’ said Sroufe.

He also found that anxious, poorly attached infants can become more secure if their mothers enter stable love relationships or alleviate their symptoms of depression. 

Buffering stress

Secure infant attachment may provide children with a crucial tool for dealing with stress by buffering their physiological reaction to novel or unexpected events, said Megan Gunnar, PhD, of the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota.To test this theory, Gunnar exposes children to mildly stressful events and measures changes in their stress-related hormones. An increase in the hormone cortisol, for example, indicates an extreme stress reaction.

In a recent study now in press, Gunnar, along with her then- graduate student Melissa Nachmias, PhD, and others, exposed 77 18-month-old children to three stimuli that the children could choose to approach or avoid: a live clown, a robot clown and a puppet show. Mothers were always present, but for the first three minutes with each stimulus researchers asked them not to participate. For the second three minutes, researchers told the mothers to try to comfort their children.

After the experiment, researchers measured cortisol levels in the children’s saliva. A week later, the researchers measured mother-child attachment using the ‘strange-situation’ test (a commonly used measure of attachment).

As expected, the researchers found no increase in cortisol for children who approached the stimuli without fear. However, cortisol levels for inhibited children, who appeared scared and wouldn’t approach the stimuli, varied depending on their attachments to their mothers. Inhibited children who had secure attachments showed no increase in cortisol while inhibited children with insecure attachments showed an increase.

‘The secure children seemed to be saying, ‘This is scary but I feel safe,” said Gunnar. ‘They had the resources to cope.’

Mothers of more inhibited children differed dramatically in how they responded to their child’s distress. Mothers of socially attached children were able to calm their children immediately. They seemed to have an established history with the child that didn’t require any work.

But mothers with insecure attachments were working hard to get their fearful children to not be fearful, said Gunnar. ‘They seemed to think it was their job to change the child, to make the child look bold.’

In a similar real-life experiment, also in press, Gunnar measured cortisol in about 60 toddlers who received inoculations from a physician. She again found that only fearful, insecure children exhibited increased salivary cortisol.

Secure attachments may act as a buffer against the stress of new, strange or scary events, Gunnar said. Without that buffer, children find it difficult to cope and their bodies activate a stress reaction. 

No attachment

And what happens if there is no motherly attachment? Psychobiologist Mary Carlson, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, asked that question when she went to Romania last September to measure cortisol levels in orphans.Many Rumanian mothers can’t afford to care for a newborn, and send their children directly from the hospital maternity wards to orphanages. The children receive little to no physical or emotional stimulation from the caretakers in the orphanages. She worked with two groups of 30 children. As part of another study, one group received enriched care-one adult for four children-for a year, six months prior to Carlson’s visit. The other group received standard 20-child-to-one-adult care the entire time.

On an average day for a typical child, cortisol levels peak in the morning and decrease by the end of the day. In both groups of orphans, however, cortisol levels increased from morning to noon and decreased slightly by evening. 

There were slight differences

for the children who received the enriched care, but because it ended six months before Carlson could study them, there’s no way to know if the care had positive effects that then diminished when the children returned to standard care.Rhesus monkeys reared with a ‘surrogate mother’ made of a wire frame covered by cloth-a poor mother substitute-demonstrate abnormal cortisol cycling similar to those of the Rumanian orphans, according to experiments by Gunnar and Stephen Suomi, PhD, Thomas Boyce, PhD, and Maribeth Champaux, PhD, at the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development.

Gunnar wanted to know if the monkeys simply cycled improperly, or if it was a matter of ‘no mommy, no attachment, no buffer.’ So, she and her colleagues repeated the experiment, making sure to keep the monkeys’ environment unusually quiet-removing even normal daily movements around the lab. The monkeys produced normal cycles.

For these severely deprived monkeys, any stimulation seems to cause stress; they have no buffer to cope with even normal, daily events, said Gunnar.

These studies show that the most basic biological systems depend on social stimulation early in life, said Carlson. Without it, children lack the foundation to deal with everyday life, let alone trauma and stress. 

Beyond the mother

With more children entering daycare, researchers have begun to look beyond mother-infant attachment to primary caregiver attachment, whether it be a mother, father or daycare provider.’If you take the notion that children form attachments from the daily mundane experiences of care-feeding, diaper changing, caressing-you need to look at all the caregivers,’ said Carollee Howes, PhD, at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In a series of studies, Howes found that the attachments children form with their primary caregivers is remarkably similar to the attachments they form with their mothers.

However, secure attachments only occur with 50 percent of caregivers as opposed to 70 percent of mothers. The lower rate of attachment probably reflects the lower quality and closeness of the caregiver relationship, said Howes.

In terms of effect, Howes and her colleagues found that in a group of 48 4-year-olds, attachment to a child-care provider better predicted peer interactions than mother-child attachment. Toddlers with secure attachments to teachers were more gregarious and more likely to engage in pretend play with peers; preschoolers were more sociable. Children with insecure teacher attachments were more hostile, aggressive, antisocial and withdrawn.

‘Attachments are relationships that develop from interactions,’ said Howes. ‘We have to figure out who the caregivers are’ and make sure they’re all competent.

While this is a relief to mothers who want or have to work, it also emphasizes the need for high- quality child care, Howes pointed out.

Many attachment researchers find themselves playing the part of child advocates, they admit. Their research points to the need for social policies that allow mothers to stay home or that require high-quality daycare for all children.

‘Babies need a lot of love and a lot of work, and denying that would be wrong,’ said Sroufe. 

  © PsycNET 2009 American Psychological Association

Marge Piercy’s “The Low Road”

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The Low Road

What can they do to you?
Whatever they want.
They can set you up,
they can bust you,
they can break your fingers,
they can burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you can’t walk, can’t remember,
they can take your child,
wall up your lover.
They can do anything
you can’t stop them from doing.
How can you stop them?
Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse,
you can take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.
But two people fighting back to back can cut through a mob,
a snake-dancing file can break a cordon,
an army can meet an army.
Two people can keep each other sane,
can give support, conviction, love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation, a committee, a wedge.
With four you can play bridge and start an organization.
With six you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no seconds,
and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.
It goes on one at a time.
It starts when you care to act.
It starts when you do it again,
after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each day,
you mean one more.

Guardian ad Chargem

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From Broward/Palm Beach New Times

Appointed by a judge to act in a child’s best interest, some lawyers can also help themselves by billing a small fortune

By Bob Whitby

Published on June 03, 1999

For most people who help kids entangled in the legal system, the only reward is the warm glow that comes from having done a good deed. For a lucky few, however, the payback is more pecuniary. Downright lucrative in some cases.How do you go from being a concerned citizen to being a concerned citizen who gets paid? By becoming a private guardian ad litem. But there are a few hurdles you’ll have to clear first.

First you’ll need a law degree, and membership in the Florida Bar helps to get in this club. Besides, there’s really no better way to meet and schmooze with family court judges, which is the second thing you want to do. Make sure the judges know you like kids.

Then sit back and wait for a juicy divorce or custody case to pop up, preferably one involving at least one rich parent able to pony up big time and several kids. You might have to handle a couple smaller cases for 1000 bucks or less to prove your worth. But sooner or later, if you’ve done your networking, the judge might remember you fondly and put your name on an order appointing a guardian ad litem in a contentious case involving well-heeled parents. If you’re extra lucky, the judge won’t dictate how much you can charge or how many hours you can put into the case. Now you’re in the money.

A guardian ad litem is a person appointed to act in a child’s best interest in legal proceedings, usually a shield between warring parents. The guardians are also investigators. In custody cases, for example, the court needs to know which parent is best suited to have primary custody. Parents who don’t want to lose their children are not the best sources of objective information, so it falls to the guardian ad litem to make a recommendation.

Every circuit court system in Florida has a publicly funded Guardian Ad Litem Program. Usually administered by a few overworked staffers, these programs recruit and train laypeople — non-lawyers — to be guardians ad litem, which is Latin for “guardians at law.” These guardians are volunteers; they serve because they want to help kids and are to be commended for it. Putting oneself in the middle of a disintegrating family is, as one guardian put it, “like sticking your head in a meat grinder.”

Volunteer guardians are assigned in cases where the parties cannot afford a private guardian. (Broward County is in desperate need of volunteer guardians, with about 1000 kids waiting for their services.)

But if a judge decides one party or the other can pay, then pay they must. That happens in a small percentage of cases and usually only in divorce or custody matters. Dependency cases, where abuse and neglect are the issue, tend to involve foster children and people who simply don’t have much money. As one guardian ad litem put it, “Dependency is the redheaded stepchild of the court house.”

A private guardian ad litem is almost always a lawyer (but isn’t serving in that capacity, which would be a conflict of interest), and that’s when the bills can start to mount.

Unless you regularly sit in on court proceedings, there is no way to determine which lawyers repeatedly get assigned as guardians ad litem. The county’s Guardian Ad Litem Program keeps tabs only on volunteers, not private, paid guardians.

Court watcher Eleanor Mendlein has sat through a lot of divorce and custody cases in the last few years, and she sees patterns in who gets assigned. “The same people get appointed over and over again,” says Mendlein. “It’s money. If you have deep pockets, you get due process.”

Through the court watchers, New Times found three instances in which paid guardians made big money — as much as $40,000-plus for a single case — advocating for children. Not surprisingly, such dollar figures raise questions of bias. If your ex is paying a guardian ad litem thousands of dollars, will the guardian be influenced by the one who foots the bill?

“The concern is real, but I don’t know if it’s justified,” says Melinda Brown, a family-law attorney who also works as a private guardian ad litem. “I deal with a whole lot more issues than who pays me.”

But the people who’ve been through the system in divorce or custody cases think differently. “These guardians don’t care anything about kids,” says Teresa Cummings, who battled with her ex-husband over custody of their two children. “Believe me, they don’t.”

After their divorce, Cummings’ husband decided he wanted custody of their children. The judge appointed a private guardian ad litem, and Cummings’ ex-husband paid the bills. “They got money from the person who has it, which in this case was my ex,” she says.

She can’t quite put her finger on it, but Cummings had the feeling the guardian ad litem was swayed by her ex-husband. “She would say things to me to aggravate me,” Cummings says. She also says she had no idea the guardian was an attorney and didn’t realize who was paying the bills until the case was almost over.

Perhaps Cummings’ fears were overstated, because she ultimately prevailed in the case and kept primary custody of her children. The guardian’s bill was about $5000.

That’s small change compared to a $27,000 bill for guardian ad litem work in the case of Ulbrich v. Ulbrich.

John Ulbrich and Christina Coolidge Ulbrich were already divorced when guardian ad litem Jeffrey Bryer came into their lives. At issue was visitation for Christina’s daughter, Nichole. Though he is neither Nichole’s biological nor adoptive father, John wanted visitation rights with the child. Christina didn’t feel her ex was entitled but gave in to avoid a costly legal battle. The case was settled out of court but not before the guardian ad litem wrote a 55,000-word journal on every aspect of the Ulbrich’s lives and charged John Ulbrich $75 for each of the 365 hours he spent doing it.

“I think he is a frustrated writer,” says John Ulbrich.
And not a very good guardian ad litem to boot, he adds. “It was just an absolute horror, a nightmare. [Bryer] had no ability to gain confidence with my daughter.”

Bryer recommended that John Ulbrich be granted visitation rights and devised a somewhat complicated schedule to that effect. Though he was the one who requested that a guardian ad litem be appointed in the first place, Ulbrich refused to pay what he believed to be a wildly inflated bill. Not that he couldn’t have paid if he wanted — Ulbrich owns a Jaguar dealership on Sunrise Boulevard. Bryer, who did not answer repeated phone calls for this story, settled for $16,500.

And then there’s the granddaddy of all guardian ad litem bills, a $40,000-plus whopper for services rendered in the divorce case of Gumberg v. Gumberg.

Again the pattern: Rich husband pays the bill, less financially endowed wife feels shafted by the system.

The Gumbergs’ divorce case defines contentious — the case file sprawls over 21 volumes. Lorraine Abruzzo Gumberg says her legal bill alone is more than $200,000. She estimates her ex-husband’s bill at close to $800,000, a figure which could not be confirmed because Andrew Gumberg did not return phone calls from New Times.

At the heart of this mess is the custody of a four-year-old boy. The guardian ad litem recommended custody be awarded to the father, with the mother having visitation rights. Not surprisingly, that didn’t sit well with Lorraine Gumberg. “I didn’t stand a chance,” she says. “I lost custody of my child.”

Gumberg says the guardian ad litem criticized her for picayune things, like feeding her son from a bottle though he was 20 months old and letting him sleep in bed with her. The guardian also suggested that, should custody be awarded to the husband, the wife should live close by so the child’s life would not be unduly interrupted. Gumberg scoffs at the notion, noting that her ex-husband, whose worth is put at some $32 million in court records, lives in a $2.5 million waterfront home in Fort Lauderdale. “The idea was that Jordan should not have to go from dad’s beautiful house to mom’s trailer park,” she says. “That’s bullshit.”

Anne Alper, the guardian ad litem in the Gumberg case, was out of town and could not be reached for this story.

In the end Gumberg says her ex-husband got the best legal help money could buy. “I just don’t think the system works right,” she says. “I think the system sucks. He has money. I don’t. That’s the bottom line.”

Contact Bob Whitby at his e-mail address:

Written by mothersoflostchildren

March 9, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Whores of the Court

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Author Margaret A. Hagen has made her book “Whores of the Court: The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and the Rape of American Justice” available on her website.  Here is a description of her work:

Professor Margaret A. Hagen

Professor Margaret A. Hagen

In this provocative and well-researched book, Margaret Hagen, Ph.D, reveals how expert psychological testimony is a total fraud, showing how the courts have increasingly embraced not a cutting-edge science but, instead, a discipline that represents a terrifying retreat into fantasy and hearsay; a discipline propelled by powerful propaganda, arrogance, and greed.

Dr. Hagen sounds a clarion wake-up call, offering some startling – and much-needed – recommendations about how we can reclaim our own ability to judge and supplying vital advice on how we can protect ourselves from the ravages of psychological testimony in our own lives.

“A damning indictment of the psychologizing – and undermining – of the American legal system. With righteous wrath and devastating wit, this sweeping critique should stir national debate.”

Please visit her website to download the book.

Written by mothersoflostchildren

March 9, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Corruption in Indiana Courts

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This is a post I ran across tonight…given the big problems that happen when a Guardian ad Litem gets involved in a case, I became interested.  I will seek more out about this story…

Corruption in Indiana Courts

by: Roxanne (Scarlett) Varga

Roxanne writes after receiving a recent Press Release, in response to a request for help and information from the Indiana Civil Rights Counsel.

The story that was forwarded to me sounds similar to the custody situation that I am currently going through with my daughter and am finding out that many other people are experiencing the same treatment of a corrupt court system in Northern Indiana.   (Not just northern Indiana, sigh…)

Forced to Move

I will be very brief, as many things have happened since the start of the mess in February. Since my husband filed for divorce we have separated and I was forced to live outside of the home that I purchased. The reasons for this are significant to the case and his ill character. A custody investigation was done in the house in which I lived with a friend from work.

The report that followed was filled with false allegations of adultery and child neglect and not a word of my concerns were presented in the report. The writer of the report recommended that my husband be awarded custody based on the current living arrangements.

Communication Break Down

From that point on I was not able to speak to the custody investigator and was told to speak to my lawyer. The Guardian Ad Litem, who was court appointed, also refused to speak to me after our initial conversation in which she informed me that there was no reason for her to involved.

It took me until July to get back in my house and that did not happen until my husband could no longer afford to live here. My husband then decided that he could agree to joint custody and it appeared to me that we would be working things out.

The second custody investigation that was supposed to be performed was then cancelled and things appeared to be ok, although I continued to have confrontations with his mother and frequently heard many disturbing things from my daughter regarding “her divorce”. I discussed many of these issues with the counselor that I sought out for my daughter and felt that she was working on the issues for Emily’s sake.

Emotional Abuse

In mid September I received a petition to appear in court and found that the Guardian Ad Litem was moving to take custody from me altogether, this based on the emotional state of my daughter and a report from the counselor that I was afflicting emotional distress on my Emily.

I later spoke to the counselor and she informed me that she did not state the issues to the Guardian Ad Litem that were in the report. On September 19th, half way through the brief hearing the Guardian Ad Litem spoke up that there were bruises on my daughter. This resulted in my current situation of 100% supervised visits with my daughter for an hour and a half a week.

Since the September 19th date I have tried to get my lawyer to get back in court for them to provided proof (they can’t – there isn’t any) of any wrong doing on my part. I have spent $2000 on lawyer fees for hearings that have been cancelled while my witnesses and I wait.

The Guardian Ad Litem and the custody investigator continue to refuse to speak to me and my lawyer cannot provide me with any hope of change. My daughter is very emotionally distressed over this and has been sick for 3 weeks now. I am completely unable to help her and am very concerned for her.

Conflict of Interest

I recently was informed that my husband’s lawyer was once a law partner with the judge and that he also has a brother-in-law that is a judge in the county.

He was the prosecuting attorney for 25 years before he went into his current practice and consistently puts his cases in front of these 2 judges.

I have also encountered another gentlemen, a former Notre Dame professor who has battling a very similar situation for nearly 5 years. You can find his information on his web site – Injustice In Northern Indiana

I have much documentation to support what has happened and hope that someone will care enough, not only for my situation, but also for others who are or may be faced with this.

Roxanne (Scarlett) Varga

Written by mothersoflostchildren

March 5, 2009 at 12:44 am