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When Vengeful Fathers Seek Custody, Children Lose

30th June 2011
By Anna Greenberg in Legal
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There is a little known trend in family court that has been brewing for some time now. Fathers are getting custody of small children at higher rates, and this is leading some to question the startling statistic that over 85% of fathers that seek custody of a child eventually win in court. Whether this is good or bad for children is up for debate.

It has been my experience, in my 27 years of practice, that fathers seeking custody fall into two very distinct groups. The first is fathers that are forced to take custody of a child because the mother is unwilling or unable to care for the child. The second is those that file for custody out of revenge, spite and a need to dominate and punish the mother for perceived wrongdoings.

A recent case I studied gave me clear insight into this. Consider the case of McKinly Coleman, a father who sued for custody of his infant daughter, Alexis Moxley, in 2007. His is a clear case of a father who sued the mother for custody to punish her. Why am I so convinced that this is the case?

A father who sues for custody for altruistic reasons---the mother is sick, unwilling or unable to care for the child---is usually sensitive to the grief the mother must feel at having to be separated from her child. He bends over backward to accomodate the mother and keep her a part of the child's life as much as possible. In many cases, he often helps the mother receive the help she needs to regain joint custody of the child. The case of McKinly Coleman fit none of these.

According to family court documents, Coleman received a temporary order of custody of Alexis when the child was two years old. He received it on a very rare technicality---a court procedure known as ex parte--in which only one party is present before the judge. The mother did not have an attorney and was on a business trip when the father filed for an emergency custody order after reporting the child "missing."

It would later be revealed through phone records and daycare center records that the child was at the mother's house the entire time, and the father intentionally refused to accept calls from the mother in order to bolster his case.

Armed with a fresh custody order, the father proceeded to psychologically torture the mother, taunting her about not having custody. The mother began recording the phone calls. In over 90 hours of audio tape, I observed:

-The father taunting the mother, yelling, "you lost your child!"

-The father refusing to allow the toddler to talk to the mother by phone. The mother crying and pleading for information about the baby, and the father laughing at her misery.

-The father sending a series of emails instructing the mother how the child's hair is to be styled during visits. We hear him tell her "my girlfriend combs her hair and she doesn't want you touching it. The mother is prohibited from grooming the child.

-The father informing the mother that he wants the child's name changed so that she has no more link to her mother's family.

-The father, finally allowing phone calls when compelled by court order, forcing the mother to say "May I" instead of "Can I" speak to the child. The father makes the mother repeat it several times until she says it correctly, then hangs up.

This kind of behavior is rarely seen in custody cases in which a loving father asks for custody. Most caring fathers understand that young children need their mothers, and would not dream of separating the child from the mother unless it was absolutely necessary.

When vengeful fathers seek custody, they do so to destroy the mother. And many succeed. In the months following his custody award, Coleman called the police on the mother over a dozen times, for reasons ranging from the mother being 2 minutes late dropping off the child, to her failure to return a pair of shoes.

Fortunately, these types of cases are rare. While Alexis Moxley's mother has to deal with a cruel and vengeful parent for the rest of her life, most women are luckier when the father loses interest in punishing her.

When vengeful fathers seek custody and win, children lose big time.

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About the Author
Occupation: Psychologist
Anna Greenberg is a clinical psychologist with over 25 years of experience in family court and child custody cases. She currently works as mediation specialist, helping warring parents come to the best solutions for their children without dragging them through contentious custody battles. Anna regularly writes articles on contested custody and the risks they cause for children. She lives in Levittown, NY with her husband of 30 years, Adam, and their dog, Email.
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