February 3, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Given the background of the battle for Dr. Francis Joseph’s child outlined in my previous piece, how could Judge Thomas Campbell possibly give custody to her mother, Sheena Thomason? The evidence at trial was essentially uncontradicted that Thomason had done everything in her power to keep Joseph out of his daughter’s life altogether. The evidence similarly showed, and was accepted by all, that Joseph is a fine, loving and competent father to both Nyssa and his son by a previous marriage. And the evidence was clear that, in addition to her attempts to alienate Nyssa from Joseph, Thomason left the little girl unattended with her maternal grandfather, a registered sex offender. Surely, all that adds up to a finding that Joseph must be the girl’s primary parent with Thomason having visitation that’s structured to ensure no further harm to the child from her attempts at alienation.
Indeed, the Guardian ad Litem, whose job it was to protect the child’s interests, recommended that Joseph have custody. But Judge Campbell rejected that advice. He also rejected the testimony of Dr. William Bernet that Thomason’s behavior constituted parental alienation, that parental alienation is a form of child abuse, that Thomason was likely to continue the abuse in the future and that Nyssa may well end up alienated from her father. And Judge Campbell rejected the opinion of Dr. Kevin Richards who expressed concern that Thomason not only left Nyssa in the “care” of a registered sex offender, but apparently thought doing so was sound parenting.
How is such a thing possible? It wasn’t easy.
First, Judge Campbell was at pains to conclude that both Joseph and Thomason were fit parents, and many witnesses and the Guardian ad Litem agreed. But again, how is it possible that Thomason, given her behavior, is a fit parent? It turns out that if we look at only the relationships between Nyssa and Joseph, and Nyssa and Thomason, all is well. Both parents treat the child well and her behavior reflects it. Her behavior is age-appropriate; when she goes to school, she’s clean and well-groomed; adults observe that her interactions with her mother and father are warm and loving.
In short, as long as we only look at the interactions between Nyssa and either her mother or her father, then all is well or, in the words of the GAL, “both parents are safe and sound.”
But of course there’s far more to this case than simply the one-on-one relationships between each parent and the child. What’s concerning is the relationships between the parents. They plainly dislike each other and have engaged in some bitter animosity during the course of the trial and Nyssa’s life (which are roughly the same period of time). And that turns out to be the key to Judge Campbell’s decision to give custody to Thomason. Here he is in his own words:
The level of cooperation and willingness to consult about a child's best interests, and compromise to that end, is altogether missing here. To a degree both parties are correct that a struggle more over control and less about the best interests of the child has occurred here. Evident in both parties behavior are examples of their unwillingness to concede the other parent is safe and appropriate. The Court finds they both are just that.
He goes on to equate the behaviors of the two parents during the course of the litigation calling them both fit as parents, but failing in their relationship with each other.
What differs (between Joseph and Thomason) is the Court's observation that the father has not given up on his sometimes near-maniacal efforts to control the mother, and the situation he is in. The thrust of his presentation at trial, was to accuse, through his own and expert testimony, the mother of alienating him from his daughter. (Parenthetical mine)
Control the mother? The only evidence of that are Joseph’s efforts to get her to allow him to spend some time with his daughter. Yes, if you want to look at it that way, is an effort “to control the mother and the situation he is in.” But so, for example, would be a Motion for Contempt by a father who’s been prevented from visiting his child. What escapes the judge is the fact that Joseph is Nyssa’s father and supposedly has certain parental rights. Campbell ignores entirely the fact that for months, until she was ordered to do so by a court, Thomason refused to allow Joseph contact with his daughter. To characterize his constitutionally protected right to a relationship with his child as “control” of “the mother” would be silly for anyone, but for a judge it suggests a pre-existing agenda. The only parent controlling anyone was Thomason controlling Joseph.
Worse, he actually criticizes Joseph on the grounds that “the thrust of his presentation at trial” consisted of “the mother… alienating him from his daughter.” Well, Judge Campbell, shouldn’t it be? After all, that’s what happened and, contrary to what you wrote in your decision, parental alienation does reflect on a parent’s ability to parent. You of course know that because (a) it’s common sense and (b) a world-renowned expert told you so.
Remember what Dr. Bernet said? Remember how he described Thomason’s behavior as alienating, which it transparently was? Remember how he called it child abuse that could well affect Nyssa’s relationship with her father for years to come?
But Campbell wasn’t interested in that. Yes, he intoned the mantra of the “best interests of the child,” but somehow managed to avoid noticing that those interests aren’t advanced by a parent who engages in the child abuse of alienation.
No, amazingly enough, what Campbell was interested in was this:
First it should be observed that if that (i.e. alienation) was in fact her goal, she has failed miserably. His daughter clearly loves him and enjoys her time with him. (Parenthetical mine)
So for Campbell parental alienation is perfectly fine as long as it doesn’t work – at least not yet. Giving custody to a parent who’s done everything possible to exclude the other parent from the child’s life is the right thing to do since the child as yet shows no damage. I suppose shooting at Dad with a .45 would be OK too as long as the bullets didn’t find their mark.
Campbell’s anti-father bias is a bit too plain to miss. The decision about child custody is supposedly which parent is most able to ensure the best interests of the child. A parent who behaves as Thomason did toward Joseph is almost per se not that parent. Only if he had some very major parenting shortcomings should such alienation be given a pass, and no one in this case claims Joseph has any of those.
More amazingly still is the fact that in the whole of Campbell’s seven-page letter announcing his decision he never once mentioned a single word about Thomason’s dogged efforts to get Joseph out of Nyssa’s life. Her 29 nine complaints – all of them false – to various authorities she hoped could influence child custody – go completely unmentioned. An uninformed reader of that letter would never guess the lengths to which Thomason went to deny Nyssa a father.
That’s because Campbell was too busy pinning all blame on Joseph. He writes, “[the expert opinions on alienation] represent the father's belief, still held at the time of trial that the mother and others were out to harm him.” Missing from Campbell’s screed against this father is the fact that Francis Campbell was right. He was objectively correct in presenting evidence that that is exactly what Sheena Thomason was doing. She was trying to harm him; that was her objective. That her efforts also harmed their daughter is what military officials call collateral damage. Damage it certainly was, but it wasn’t her aim.
So the fact that Joseph is unquestionably correct in his conclusion that Thomason was out to harm him somehow renders him a suspect parent in Campbell’s eyes, but Thomason’s malice toward Joseph gets a pass. Does anti-father bias get clearer than that?
But it gets worse, much worse. Toward the outset of the letter announcing his decision, Campbell listed the statutory considerations required for issuing a child custody order. Here they are:
1] The quality of the relationship that the children have with each parent;
2] The ability of each parent to provide adequate care for the children throughout each period of responsibility, including arranging for the children's care by others as needed;
3) The relative competency and fitness of each parent;
4) Each parent's willingness to accept all responsibilities of parenting, including a willingness to accept care for the children at specified times and to relinquish care to the other parent at specified times;
5} How the parent and the children can best maintain and strengthen a relationship with each other;
6] How the parent and each child interact and communicate with each other and how such interaction and communication may be improved;
7] The ability and willingness of each parent to allow the other to provide care without intrusion, respect the other parent' rights and responsibilities, including the right to privacy;
8] The geographic distance between the parents' residences;
9) The current physical and mental ability of each parent to care for the children; and
10] Any other factors the Court deems necessary and relevant.
Unlike many of the countless child custody orders I’ve read, Judge Campbell’s declines to go through an item-by-item analysis of the statutorily-required considerations and how each parent stacks up on each. It should be obvious why he failed to do so. On eight of the 10 specified considerations, it’s clear that Joseph and Thomason are equal. Both Campbell and Shelley Flot, the GAL, said the two are fit parents.
But on the other two, no balanced view of the evidence can claim them to be equal. Consideration No. 7 requires a parent to “allow the other to provide care without intrusion, respect the other parent’s rights and responsibilities, including the right to privacy.” Thomason of course did no such thing. In fact she did the opposite, cutting off all contact between Nyssa and her father, and allowing it only grudgingly and because of a court order. Even when there was a court order in place allowing him visitation, she continued to try to prohibit all contact as when she attempted to have him deported to India on trumped up grounds.
By contrast, Dr. Joseph never tried to prevent Thomason from having access to Nyssa, never kept the child past his regular visitation period, never took her away and refused to return. Indeed, what Joseph requested at trial wasn’t sole custody for himself, but an absolute 50/50 split of parenting time to be accomplished by a week-on/week-off schedule. He even volunteered to pay all the expenses of Nyssa’s travel for those hand-offs himself.
What more could he do to show himself to be in full compliance with consideration No. 7?
Then there’s the catchall consideration No. 10. What other factors might Campbell have deemed relevant? Well, what about Thomason’s exposure of Nyssa to a registered sex offender “one to two times per month?” No, Campbell didn’t deem that to be necessary or relevant. Indeed, he only even mentioned it obliquely and in passing thus:
Both parents are good parents and must be aware of the dangers of grandfathers and friends who might pose a risk.
Yes, that’s 100% of what Judge Campbell had to say about leaving a little girl with a sex offender. Note the false equivalency in his statement. Both parents must be aware of the dangers of grandfathers. You’d think that both Thomason and Joseph had left their daughter with a sex offender, but of course only one of them did. And at trial, she couldn’t see the problem with having done so.
All this adds up to a judge with a predisposition against fathers and in favor of mothers. That’s the only conclusion to draw when he lists verbatim the requirements of the Wyoming statute governing child custody and goes on to completely ignore the one that clearly weighs against the mother and in favor of the father. That he likewise ignored the possibility of sexual abuse of the child and all the testimony regarding parental alienation by the mother only adds to our condemnation of him.
Here’s a prediction: Sheena Thomason, having been rewarded for her disgraceful behavior to date, will continue to try to alienate Nyssa from her father. She’ll do that by the tried and true method of denying Joseph his visitation with her. Eventually Joseph will get fed up and file a motion with the court to enforce the order of visitation and Judge Campbell will shake his learned head and refuse, citing Joseph’s “controlling” personality. That of course will embolden Thomason further. With each new denial of visitation by her and each motion filed by Joseph, the judge will grow more entrenched in his belief that every effort by this fit, loving father, to have some sort of role in his child’s life is simply further proof of his irascible personality, his need for “control” and his inability to co-parent.
And soon enough, Thomason’s original desire will be granted her. Judge Campbell will finally oust Francis Joseph from his daughter’s life altogether.
We’ll see what happens, but that’s my prediction. It happens all too often in this world of child custody cases in which fathers have to be twice as good just to have any contact at all with their kids.
The statutory requirements are there. They’re easy to understand. But when a judge who’s biased against fathers decides to make an order that directly contravenes those requirements, there’s not a lot anyone can do.
Funny, I suspect Judge Campbell was thinking exactly that when he led off his letter with some pithy legal quotations describing just how free he is to rule as he wants.
Custody, visitation, child support, and alimony are all committed to the sound discretion of the district Court… "We do not overturn the decision of the trial Court unless we are persuaded, of an abuse of discretion or the presence of a violation of some legal principle.”…
A Court does not abuse its discretion unless it acts in a manner which "exceeds the bounds of reason under the circumstances.”
Campbell adopts a defensive posture from the outset. It’s as if he’s saying “I know what I’m doing is wrong, but just try to prove it’s an abuse of discretion.”
It’s sad he didn’t save himself the trouble and do the obviously right thing from the start.
And so another day in family court comes to an end. Another fit, loving and capable father is removed from his child’s life with the likelihood of further alienation by the mother over time. Another child, who loves her father dearly will now see him only rarely. Nyssa is to be removed from her school, her swimming lessons and her half-brother.
Just recently we saw a fine analysis by, Dr. Linda Nielsen, of the social science on the deep-seated need of daughters for their fathers. Here it is. Nielsen showed that children of divorce see their fathers only about 15% of the time and, unsurprisingly, that’s about the amount of time Nyssa is scheduled to see Joseph under Campbell’s order. This “underfathering” has severe negative consequences for children, particularly girls.
Nielsen details the many adverse consequences to daughters of losing their dads to divorce. It affects their mental, emotional and physical health; they’re less likely to form stable romantic relationships, they’re more likely to become pregnant as teenagers and to begin sex earlier; their grades tend to be poorer and they’re less likely to attend or finish college and more likely to engage in crime and illicit drug use. By contrast, “those daughters whose fathers remain actively involved in their lives differ very little from girls whose parents have never been divorced.”
In the face of all that, and on the slimmest of pretexts, Judge Campbell has effectively sent Nyssa off to a life without a father or at best one marginally involved with her. Francis Joseph asked the judge for equal custody with his ex. The judge’s order was a slap in the face to a fit and loving father. Worse, it likely will give Nyssa serious physical, mental and emotional issues to grapple with all her life.
And all because one official couldn’t put aside his bias that fathers aren’t necessary to the well-being of children.
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