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November 21st, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The latest custody fight involving a celebrity is a bit unusual in that the celebrity is 14 years old and is seeking to strip her mother of custody of her.  The celebrity in question is Ariel Winter who stars in the television dramedy, Modern Family.  She has asked a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to sharply limit her mother’s parental rights and appoint her 33 year old sister, Shanelle Gray, her permanent guardian.  Here’s one account (Radar Online, 11/19/12).  Here’s another (Los Angeles Times, 11/20/12).  And another (Examiner, 11/20/12).  And yet another (E! News Online, 11/20/12).

The judge appointed Gray to be Winter’s temporary guardian on October 3 and will shortly decide whether to make the guardianship permanent.

The stated reason for removing Winter from the care of her mother, Chrisoula Workman, is the mother’s alleged penchant for physical and emotional abuse.  As Radar Online reports:

“Social workers from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services conducted extensive interviews with Ariel, her mother and her sister,” a source close to the situation tells Radar. “At the conclusion of those exhaustive interviews and based on other evidence that social workers had, they have written a formal report for the judge handling the guardianship petition, and DCFS officials agree that her sister should remain as Ariel’s guardian…

There are major concerns with the emotional abuse that Ariel’s mother allegedly inflicted on her…”

“Ariel Workman has been the victim of on-going physical abuse (slapping, hitting, pushing) and emotional abuse (vile name calling, personal insults about minor and minor’s weight, attempts to ‘sexualize’ minor, deprivation of food, etc) for an extended period of time by the minor’s mother, Chris Workman,” the custody documents state.

In addition to Winter’s claims, many years ago, Chris Workman had a run-in with the DCFS over allegations of abuse against Shanelle Gray.

So, from Winter’s allegations and the DCFS report, Workman looks like she’s got issues with her temper.  On the other hand, she adamantly denies all the allegations and has recruited a wide variety of people to back her up.  The Los Angeles Times reported that,

Workman has denied all accusations of abuse and filed more than two dozen declarations from friends, acquaintances, stylists and others saying they never witnessed any abuse.

Into the bargain, Winter’s adult brother, Jimmy Workman, backs up his mother’s claims.  E! News reported that,

In a handwritten declaration sent to a judge Monday and obtained by E! News, Jimmy—a former child star best known for playing Pugsley in the big-screen remake of The Addams Family—said he has “NEVER seen any physical or emotional abuse in the home of my parents regarding Ariel.”

But Jimmy has more to say than just that, and, in the final analysis, nails it.

He added that Ariel and Chrisoula’s interactions were “normal mother and daughter arguments” that escalated when the teen’s mom “forced” her to break up with 19-year-old boyfriend Cameron Palatas.

Aye, there’s the rub.  It looks pretty obvious to me.  Winter went to a lawyer and filed to be the ward of her sister, and three days later, Chris Workman reported to the police that she’d discovered Winter and her legally-adult boyfriend in bed together.  The couple of course says that it was all innocent, and to date Palatas hasn’t been charged with a crime, but Chris clearly laid down the law to Winter – break up with the older guy.  And the next thing she knew, her daughter had leveled charges at her.  Hell hath no fury like that of 14-year-old punished.

Is there in fact any trace of evidence that Mom is actually abusive?  Has anyone seen it happen?  Are there medical records to that effect?  Has Winter complained to anyone before about her mother’s abuse?  Absent that, thre’s no way a court should take the girl from her mother, irrespective of her wishes.

Media, Court Have Ignored Father as Possible Custodian for Ariel Winter

But Jimmy Workman didn’t stop there.  He continued to get it right.

Jimmy said that the situation “has sickened me in a very bad way” and he “cannot believe that the court and attorneys can remove a child from their mother and father with less than two hours’ notice.”

Oh, that’s right.  Where there’s a child, there must be a father.  No one seems to have given him much (or any) thought, except himself and his son.  According to the Examiner, Glenn Workman filed declarations in court saying

I am physically, emotionally, and financially capable of caring for my daughter, without limitation. No evidence has been produced that suggests any detriment to Ariel associated with my father-daughter relationship with her.

I am a frugal and modest person with a moderate income who doesn’t need Ariel’s income to survive. I believe Ariel has demonstrated a lot of maturity and is at an age now that she should have more control over her finances.

And his wife agrees.

“There are absolutely no grounds to say that Ariel’s father, and my husband, Glenn is incapable of caring for our daughter,” she said. “There are no issues that would render him incapable of being Ariel’s father.”

What no publication has reported is whether Glenn and Chris live together.  She refers to him as her “husband,” so they’re aren’t divorced, but, at the same time, his statements suggest that he hasn’t been living with his daughter recently.  Whatever the case, he’s her father and, according to him at least, is fully qualified and willing to be a father to his daughter.  According to United States Supreme Court statements, that should mean that he gets custody until the court sorts out what his wife did or didn’t do to Ariel.  If it finds that Chris is abusive, he should have at least primary custody and she should pay him child support.  As Jimmy Workman said,

Shanelle “is not the right person to have custody.”

I don’t know what Gray’s parental capabilities are, but I do know that Jimmy’s statement is correct under the law.  Let’s see how this one shakes out.

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