The Kafkaesque nightmare of family court

In many cases, family court becomes an evil, surreal nightmare rather than a system to protect children

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WASHINGTON, October 30, 2015 – Named after the Czech writer Franz Kafka, Kafkaesque describes a state where a bureaucracy, usually a courtroom, overpowers people, often in a surreal, nightmarish milieu which evokes feelings of senselessness, disorientation, and helplessness.

As detailed in Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney’s Kafkaesque Divorce Chris Mackney felt the full brunt of that experience in his family court proceedings.

For example, Mackney discovered that his father-in-law has committed a murder in 1968. While Mackney considered this extremely important, the court minimized it, calling it “the incident” and “the felony from the 1960s.” Moreover, Mackney was deemed as “obsessed” with the murder, and even was jailed for putting reference to it on Wikipedia.

“From his perspective, this is straight out of Kafka or the Twilight Zone, and I suspect you could make a film that would make him some money, but that doesn’t advance his cause,” a lawyer once said of Mackney.

Mackney’s ex-wife, Dina Mackney, her father, Pete Scamardo, their lawyers, Jim Cottrell and Kyle Bartol, and the custody evaluator, Stanton Samenow, have declined numerous requests for comment.

Family courts often take on dark undertones when a protective parent is accused of being a parental alienator.

Shortly after divorce proceedings began in 2009, Sunny Kelley’s son came home from a visit with his father acting strangely. Kelley took him to the pediatrician where he told the doctor his dad was playing the “tickle the weenie” game.

Her son came home from another visit with anal tearing.

When Kelley reported the incident to the police and Child Protective Services, those two agencies eschewed their investigation and instead ceded to the decision of family court.

Soon a dozen professionals, all unbeknownst to Kelley belonging to the Connecticut branch of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), were brought in to decide whether Kelley or her ex-husband – who denied the allegations – was telling the truth.

But Kelley never made any allegations of her own. “I was very, very, very careful never to accuse (my son’s) father of anything.  With every professional, with every visit to the hospital or therapists or pediatrician, all I did was to repeat what my son had told me.” Kelley told journalist Keith Harmon Snow. “But no matter what I did, it was always turned around on me that I was the guilty one, that I was making false accusations about my husband.”

“You’re giving me abundant evidence that your husband abused you and your son physically, emotionally, financially, psychologically.” Robert LaMontagne, a family services supervisor assigned to her case told her. “But the more solid evidence you provide of his abuse, the more evidence you provide that you have motive to be vindictive.”

Once Kelley was deemed a parental alienator, her nightmare hit overdrive.  She was told she couldn’t sit next to her son, couldn’t drive if he was in the car, couldn’t take him for medical care, couldn’t see his medical records, couldn’t whisper to him, had to take away his video games if he acted out sexually, and must repeat verbiage provided by the judge whenever he hit her.

Susan Skipp experienced a similar situation. When Susan Skipp’s divorce ended, she was given physical custody of her children. When Skipp went back to court to try and to enforce child support, the guardian ad litem, Mary Brigham, entered an appearance. Brigham made the appearance despite no invitation from the court for her to re-enter the case.

Skipp, who was the victim of domestic violence during her marriage, was soon deemed a parental alienator.

Once deemed a parental alienator, Skipp was also subject to a series of restrictions. She was deemed a parental alienator when she called her father-in-law after her ex-husband received a driving under the influence citation, when the children didn’t call her ex-husband after he changed his phone number, and when her son’s martial arts class was switched to a day when her ex-husband had parenting time.

“When (the) children were terrified and cried not to go with their abuser (her ex-husband), I was instructed to ‘drag the children’ to his car,” Skipp told me.

Months ago when I initially confronted Brigham on her role in Skipp’s divorce, she replied, “I suggest you check your facts before you print anything.” However, she has never provided additional evidence or explanation.

Brigham did not respond to an email for comment for this story.

Deb Beacham of My Advocate Center in Atlanta, George, an advocacy group for family court, told me in about 30% of the cases she sees a protective parent is accused of being a parent alienator. She said the so-called diagnosis is routinely done without a trial, without due process, and restrictions similar to those placed on Skipp and Kelley are then applied.

Beacham wrote this review of my book.

The Tsimhoni case has received national press for actions by the Judge regarding her assessment of parental alienation. In this case, there is scant evidence of parental alienation except the behavior of the children. In other words, because the children want nothing to do with their father, the Judge decided parental alienation must exist.

Moreover, the case has deemed that allegations of abuse against the father are unsubstantiated. This decision ignores a Child Protective Services report, a medical report, a police report, testimony, and an email from at least one psychologist. Because the Judge said abuse allegations are unsubstantiated, the children cannot claim they do not want a relationship with their father because he is an abuser.

Even proponents of parental alienation would have a hard time proving it. Examples of behaviors related to parental alienation include a parent repeatedly telling children he or she won’t love them if the children also love the other parent, or one parent suggesting the other parent is crazy and dangerous.

Days after Mackney committed suicide, his children told friends of theirs that it didn’t matter he was dead, “because he’s crazy anyway,” a sentiment which was also repeated by their mother numerous times.

But to know if a parent is saying these kinds of things to their children repeatedly one would need to be a fly on the wall in their homes. Allegations of this type of behavior have never been made in the Tsimhoni case, Skipp’s case, or Kelley’s case.

Instead, the judge deemed the children’s behavior so out of bounds that the only explanation was parental alienation. “I see kids who have been physically abused, tortured, raped, that still want to talk to their father; that still respect their father. Your kids have none of those things,” Judge Lisa Gorcyca told the three Tsimhoni children.

Ironically, both Susan Skipp and Sunny Kelley haven’t seen their children in more than three years. Maya Tsimhoni-Eibschitz hasn’t seen her three children in nearly three months. The purported parent alienator has been turned into the alienated parent by the court which is supposedly trying to solve parental alienation; only in a real Kafkaesque nightmare.

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