February 6, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The following is a summary of the facts of the case used by Tim Stelloh in his article in Al Jazeera about which I’ve written here (NPO, 1/29/14) and here. It’s styled “Jane Doe vs. John Roe” and was tried in the Superior Court for the State of Connecticut. The final order and findings of the Judge, Lynda Munro, are dated February 2, 2012. Stelloh offers it as an example of a child custody case in which (a) an abusive father (b) claimed parental alienation by the mother who (c) was protecting their child from his abuse but who (d) lost custody to him because of his claim of alienation. Here are the judge’s findings and final orders in the case. Her Memorandum of Decision is long – some 34,000 words excluding footnotes – but I urge you to read it. It utterly demolishes Stelloh’s article.
Contrary to Stelloh’s claims, the father never abused the couple’s child and never made a claim of parental alienation by the mother. In fact, it was the mother who abused the child both sexually and emotionally and her abuse seriously compromised the boy’s emotional/psychological health. Because of that abuse and her dogged refusal to stop it, the father was given sole custody of his son. Of Stelloh’s four major claims about the case, only one – the father’s getting custody – was true.
“Jane Doe” and “John Roe” met in 1999, were married in 2002 and their son “Peter” was born December 9, 2003. Doe filed for divorce in July of 2009 and it was finalized by Munro’s 2012 order. Until December 3, 2009, the couple were amicable. They continued living together despite the divorce action, Roe supported them both and, by December, they’d reached an agreement on all aspects of their divorce and child custody matters. Their agreement called for joint custody of their son, no alimony and no child support, exactly as Doe had requested in her original filing. Up to then, Doe had never claimed any form of abuse by Roe of either herself or Peter.
On December 3, Doe abrogated their agreement by filing a claim for sole custody based on her claim that Mr. Roe was sexually abusing their son.
Between July and December, 2009, Doe had formed an inseparable friendship with a woman named Ada Shaw who seems to have been the force behind Doe’s claims that Roe sexually abused his son and physically, psychologically and sexually abused her. Beginning in December, 2009, both Shaw and Doe kept written logs of Peter’s behavior; Shaw was, in Judge Munro’s description, “omnipresent” in Doe’s life and her “hostility” toward Roe was “palpable.” Whatever Shaw’s exact role, both Doe and Peter were easy targets for the notion of sexual abuse by a father.
First, Doe had been sexually abused as a child, a fact that had been ignored by her parents. She was therefore preoccupied with the ideas both of sexual abuse itself and that those in authority don’t adequately respond to claims thereof. Second, the method of parenting Doe and Roe used with Peter resulted in sexualizing him, i.e. from an early age, he acted out sexually and they refused to teach him appropriate behavior. Both parents dearly love their son and have always provided well for him, but sadly, they didn’t know the basics of good parenting.
Prior to his birth, Doe studied online various methods of parenting and selected one in which no boundaries are set for the child. Roe acquiesced in his wife’s selection of parenting styles. As Judge Munro found,
This philosophy consisted of a parenting style short on boundaries with a kind of permissive approach to child rearing. There were no consequences for out of bounds behavior. The child was not disciplined for misdeeds but instead was spoken to at length regarding his motivation. This approach to parenting has not served Peter well, it is clear. His particular needs are for structure and boundaries, constantly reinforced. Ms. Doe testified that if she were to see Peter attempt to put his hand on a hot stove, she would discuss it with him without raising her voice…
The parties slept with the child in their bed from birth onward… The parties had sexual relations with Peter in their bed from his birth until their sexual relations ceased. Incredibly, the notion was that the child stayed asleep while this was going on. This conduct contributed to the child's over-stimulation described later in this decision.
Not only did they have sex while their son was next to them in bed, from his earliest days, Doe exhibited what Judge Munro and various experts called a “preoccupation” with her son’s body, most notably his penis and anus. Throughout the two and a half years of their divorce proceedings, Doe repeatedly examined the boy for signs of abuse and, when she wasn’t doing so herself, had numerous doctors do so. This included having his maternal grandmother pull apart Peter’s buttocks to expose his anus for photographing by his mother. At one point when he was seven, she applied Bacitracin ointment to his penis twice a day for 23 consecutive days despite his pediatrician’s urging that the boy should do so himself. By the same age, Doe was still assisting her son when he used the toilet including wiping himself, something that proved unnecessary when he was with his father. By age five, Peter was urinating on the floor in various parts of the house and at times on his mother, again not behavior he exhibited with his dad. Not content with her extensive contact with his genitals and anus, Doe permitted her son to pull up her nightgown while they were in bed, pull apart her legs and touch her genitals.
Unsurprisingly, Judge Munro and numerous mental health experts found this behavior to be inappropriate parenting, but incredibly, to Doe it was proof that the boy’s father was sexually abusing him. Egged on by Shaw and apparently Doe’s mother (who paid virtually all the costs of her litigation), Doe went in search of proof of her claims. She found none.
Over the two years following her abrogation of their parenting agreement in December, 2009, Doe made countless claims of abuse by Roe to Judge Munro and Judge Gordon who also heard part of the case prior to trial. As in all such cases, the court appointed a bevy of experts to look into Doe’s claims which, if true, would have meant Roe was abusing his son terribly. Understandably, the judges and the experts they appointed were deeply concerned about Doe’s claims.
Because of his highly sexualized behavior, prior to her filing for divorce, Doe had Peter in therapy with three separate therapists, but never mentioned any form of abuse either of herself or Peter by Roe. Doe and Roe attended between 15 and 20 sessions with a life coach, Pat Heavern and again, despite attending some sessions alone, Doe mentioned nothing about abuse either of herself or Peter. Likewise, Peter never indicated abuse by his father or concern about him. All agree that the boy was deeply attached to his dad and vice versa.
In early December, 2009, Doe made appointments with Peter’s therapist, Katherine Templeton and pediatrician, Dr. Richard Whelan and, for the first time, made claims of sexual abuse. Neither could verify Doe’s accounts. Dr. Whelan asked Peter in private, but the boy disclosed no abuse. A physical examination of him revealed nothing untoward.
The court appointed a custody evaluator, John Lamontagne to render an opinion on parenting arrangements during the course of the litigation. Mr. Lamontagne exhaustively interviewed both parents, Peter, Dr. Whelan, Ms. Templeton and other experts involved with the family. He interviewed friends and acquaintances of both parents and Peter’s teachers. By April, 2010, he had his recommendations before the court.
In his April 2010 findings, Mr. Lamontagne noted that all of the current reports and allegations about the incidents at issue are coming from the mother. No one had substantiated that Mr. Roe touched the child's penis. Mr. Lamontagne was also concerned that Ms. Doe was letting the child know her feelings and planted the thought to him that his father tricked his mind. Notwithstanding multiple concerns, the evaluator recommended joint legal custody with the father having final decision-making when the parents cannot agree. He also recommended a shared parenting arrangement and therapy to continue for the child. Mr. Lamontagne met with the parties on April 7, 2010 to discuss the recommendations with them. Ms. Doe walked out of the meeting crying.
The fact that multiple witnesses, some expert, some lay, had investigated Doe’s claims that Roe was sexually abusing his son and found them baseless, didn’t deter her. Neither did the fact that mental health professionals and Peter’s pediatrician were beginning to think that she was a defective parent and a danger to her son. On the contrary, Doe only redoubled her efforts to find some evidence of abuse.
From December 2, 2009 forward, the plaintiff continued to bring the child to his pediatrician inferring that Peter had been abused. The doctor found no evidence of it. Dr. Whelan told the guardian ad litem that he thought the plaintiff was attempting to build a case for sexual abuse against her husband. According to Dr. Whelan's notes on March 31, 2010… “there are complaints [by the mother] about blood in the child's stool and the source was identified as an anal fissure.” Dr. Whelan reported “No evidence of trauma.”
Despite the absence of any evidence of abuse, Doe kept trying. On March 28, 2010, she appeared with Peter at the Yale Emergency room claiming the boy had rectal bleeding resulting from sexual abuse. Yale sent Peter to the Yale Sexual Abuse Clinic to be interviewed.
The forensic interview was observed by Lisa Pavlvic, MD and Maria Silva, Yale New Haven Hospital, Child Sexual Abuse Clinic, Maya Parsons (the DCF worker), Milford Department of Children and Families, Detectives Mary Canfield and Kevin Boykin, West Haven Police Department. Peter made no verbal disclosure regarding any abuse of his father or anyone else. The court having viewed the tape of the interview, concludes he showed no anxiety to even a layperson and he appeared to understand and address everything he was asked.
By July 29, 2010, Doe’s allegations of sexual abuse by Roe were starting to depart the realm of reality. She again consulted Dr. Whelan.
The pediatrician had no concerns that abuse was occurring. [T]he plaintiff told Dr. Whelan that the child is urinating on her and pulled her buttocks apart and “said he was going to put his penis in me and pee.”… Dr. Whelan later stated that “he felt that as time passed, [Ms. Doe's] anxiety rose and the nature of her allegations became less and less credible and more and more outside the realm of possibility. For example, he wondered how Peter could ever be in a position to spread his mother's cheeks and insert his penis in her bottom as [the plaintiff told him the child] threatened to.”… In examining the child's genitalia, Dr. Whelan found “no evidence of trauma.” Although the plaintiff also complained that there was rectal bleeding, the pediatrician found that the child's anus “is normal in appearance without evidence of trauma, hemorrhoids or fissures.”
Beginning in August, 2010, clinical psychologist Dr. Harry Adamokos performed, at the agreement of both Doe and Roe, “a full custody evaluation.”
He administered tests, reviewed documents, interviewed collateral contacts, both parties alone and in interactional interviews with the child.
Adamokos found no evidence of sexual abuse by Roe or anyone else, but he did find Doe to be entrenched in her belief that it was occurring.
Dr. Adamokos notes that since the March 2010 sexual abuse evaluation, “Ms. Doe's frustration and anger has only intensified. Her belief has not wavered in regards to the question, as she feels that the procedures used to investigate the concern have been substandard and insufficient…. She has expressed further upset because she (correctly) senses that her ongoing pursuit of the matter has increased the concern that she is acting inappropriately and contrary to her son's best interests….
The evaluator felt that Mr. Roe would be able to work with Ms. Doe if joint custody were ordered. He did not believe she could work with Mr. Roe if any kind of joint custody were ordered.
By November, 2010, Doe’s behavior that everyone involved in the case had come to view as “acting inappropriately and contrary to her son’s best interests” spurred Roe to file a motion seeking primary custody of his son. It was granted with Doe receiving only very limited visitation that was strictly supervised. Doe appealed the ruling which the appellate court upheld.
At the recommendation of Dr. John Collins, Peter’s therapist, yet another evaluation was performed by Dr. Kenneth Robson. He was asked to render an opinion about whether Roe was sexually abusing Peter. He referred Peter to Dr. Linda Smith for psychological testing. Both experts agreed it was “highly unlikely” that the boy was being abused by his father.
Dr. Robson also opined that Ms. Doe's relationship with her son had an orgiastic quality to it; that she had a pre-occupation with his penis and anus. ‘Orgiastic’ is explained by the evaluator as chronic over-stimulation such that it interferes with the child's normal relating to the parent. It is distinguished from parenting where the parent stops the stimulation when s/he realizes that it is more than the child can handle…
Dr. Robson concluded that the mother had a sustaining interest (not necessarily consciously) from the child's birth in the child's private parts. He traced the history in his testimony and report. Peter's continuing behaviors with her are not prohibited by her. Peter acts out knowing his mother does not interfere with him acting as he chooses. As a result his sexual aggression toward her, not prohibited by her is implicitly, therefore, encouraged as best as he knows.
Finally, in March, 2011, the court ordered yet another evaluation by family relations evaluator, John Lamontagne. Once again, Mr. Lamontagne conducted an exhaustive examination of the by-then voluminous records of the court, the many experts, teachers, Department of Children and Families caseworkers, etc. He concluded that the only one to see evidence of sexual abuse by Roe was Doe, that her preoccupation with same was detrimental to Peter’s well-being, that she was unable to see her own role in Peter’s acting out, that she relentlessly sought confirmation of her beliefs and that she was unable to control her own behavior in that regard.
Mr. Lamontagne also noted that Mr. Roe had much to learn about good parenting techniques. He had learned his parental behavior from Doe and still failed at times to set appropriate boundaries on his son’s behavior. That said, Lamontagne and the other experts concluded that Roe was “coachable” in his parenting and that he was open to Doe’s having a meaningful role in Peter’s upbringing.
Lamontagne therefore recommended that Mr. Roe have sole custody of Peter.
[F]aced with Ms. Doe's unwillingness to alter her view and its effect on Peter, and his role with his father, Mr. Lamontagne recommends sole legal and physical custody of Peter to his father. His analysis is logical and sound and based upon the facts found in this case. Therefore, the court agrees. He recommends a limited, supervised and therapeutic parenting plan because Ms. Doe remains unwilling to change her parenting approach or if she continues to examine the child for abuse. He goes on to suggest that notwithstanding Peter's bond with his mother, even these recommended therapeutic visits should cease if she “refuses to change and/or continues to question the child, look for information about abuse, or will not address his behaviors appropriately.”
As of December 3, 2009, Ms. Doe had an agreement with Mr. Roe under which the two would share custody of Peter. They had worked that out amicably. Someone, likely Ada Shaw, convinced Doe that Roe was sexually abusing his son even though no one had ever noticed such a thing in the boy’s then six-year life. She went on a single-minded hunt for evidence of abuse that wouldn’t be satisfied by some two dozen witnesses, expert and lay alike, representing numerous professional disciplines, finding none. Her desperate quest for what didn’t exist led her to sexually abuse her son herself with predictable adverse results for him. That same quest resulted, a mere 15 months after it began, in her losing custody altogether.
At one point, Dr. Whelan noted that Ms. Doe “had an agenda.” So does Tim Stelloh. Somehow, in his hunt for evidence that parental alienation is merely a shady scheme by abusive fathers to get custody of their children from “protective” mothers, he came up with this case. Somehow, he managed to ignore essentially every fact about it. And somehow he was willing to set aside any native skepticism he may have about the claims, not only of the anti-dad crowd, but of Jane Doe.
Peter seems to be doing much better now that his mother is mostly out of his life, but it wasn’t always so. In my final instalment on this outrageous case and Stelloh’s even more outrageous article, I’ll go into, among other things, the emotional damage Doe did to her son and the frankly absurd claims of her paid, hand-picked “experts” in the case.
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