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March 2, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The tiny but determined cadre of the anti-dad crowd that likes to claim that family court judges routinely remove children from “protective” mothers and hand them to abusive fathers just keep getting stranger and stranger. This piece by Michael Volpe is the latest example (Daily Caller, 3/1/18).

Volpe of course is the one who claims that Sandra Grazzini-Rucki is a woman done dirt by a nefarious ex-husband and a family court judge. If you don’t recall, Grazzini-Rucki is the Minnesota mother who abducted her two children and kept them in hiding for over two years before finally being located by the police. That stunt got her convicted of six felonies and lost her custody of her kids, which should surprise no one, but Volpe swallowed her claims of domestic abuse by her ex-husband despite their having been aired in court and found meritless. In a Facebook exchange I had with Volpe, he claimed the judge had accepted a bribe of $800,000 to switch custody. I asked Volpe for proof but – surprise, surprise! – none was forthcoming.

That’s by way of introduction to the Daily Caller piece in which Volpe once again unquestioningly accepts the notion that an innocent mother had her children wrested from her loving arms once again by an ex-husband and know-nothing judge. And, like every other person who makes those claims, Volpe’s theory is that Dad used dubious allegations of parental alienation to do his dastardly deed.

All of that is more or less par for the course. We’ve seen many similar pieces by a variety of zealots, none of which bore even casual scrutiny. Volpe’s is every bit as bad, but with a twist that gives it its unique strangeness.

The case Volpe discusses is that of an Ohio couple, Peter and Julie Goffstein who began their married lives as Chabad-Lubavitch Jews. They had six children, but at some point, Peter moved away from the strict orthodoxy of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect, prompting Julie to file for divorce. As night follows day, she was given primary custody by the trial court, but, less than a year later, Peter was back in court asking for custody to be modified with him as primary parent. The judge gave him custody or the four youngest children and later modified that order to further marginalize Julie in the children’s lives. The reason given by the judge was Julie’s alienation of the children from Peter and her frankly-admitted refusal to send them to school.

To Volpe, all that is highly suspicious. Just what he’s complaining about though he never makes clear. He links to the judge’s orders that make plain the reasons for modifying custody and parenting time, so readers can judge for themselves how sensible his argument is. That argument, in a nutshell, is that the trial judge violated Julie Goffstein’s right to freely exercise her religion by denying her primary custody of the children.

Put simply, that’s absurd. There is no jurisprudence under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause to suggest that (a) an adult’s rights automatically devolve to the children or (b) abusing children via parental alienation (or in any other way) is permitted or shielded by that clause. Understandably, Julie’s lawsuit against the trial judge claiming deprivation of religious liberty was dismissed as the junk case it was.

Undeterred, Volpe soldiers on. By “soldiers” I mean he continues his narrative despite its obvious falsity.

Peter Goffstein argued that his ex-wife’s religious choice was alienating him: “In so doing, Mr. Goffstein cited as reasons for the change in custody Mrs. Goffstein’s religious practices and the extent to which she imposed those religious practices on the children, which he claimed alienated the children from him,” a lawsuit filed by Julie Goffstein noted.

The only problem with that claim is that the judge’s orders make it crystal clear why the original order was modified.

The court finds that Jeremy, the parties’ oldest child, was not enrolled in any state-accredited school from September 12, 2012 to March 12, 2013. The court finds that this lack of education for such a lengthy period of time is demonstrative of Mother’s misplaced priorities. Father’s serious concerns regarding the secular education of the children while under mother’s custody are well-founded. The history of Mother’s enrollment of her children in online educational providers has been sporadic with minimum success. Secular education for these children must be given a much higher priority than the level of online consistency chosen by Mother in the past. Therefore, the Court considers Father’s emphasis upon more consistent, traditional school enrollments to be better in advancing the secular education needs of the children. Fulfillment of their secular education requirements is quintessential to the best interests of these young children; Father presents the best likelihood for its accomplishment.

What Volpe wants readers to believe is that the judge’s repeated use of the term “secular education” was meant to exclude the children’s religious education. That of course is untrue. The judge was merely differentiating one type of education from another and acknowledging that public schools aren’t in the business of providing training in Chabad-Lubavitch Judaism.

The court went on to detail Julie’s alienation of the children from Peter and her frank unwillingness to obey court orders if they conflict with the instructions of her Rebbe.

In short, as described by the judge, this is a very good case for Peter to have custody. Julie, for whatever reason, wasn’t seeing to the children’s education except in the Jewish faith. That education is a fine thing, but it needs to supplement secular education, not replace it. Everyone except Volpe and presumably Julie understands that simple concept.

What’s remarkable is that Volpe seems to want readers to conclude that Peter has done some wrong to his kids, but, as far as I can see, he not only hasn’t, but no one’s ever claimed that he has. If the children are doing anything but well, no one’s letting on.

That’s particularly strange in light of this:

Dr. Joy Silberg, who is president of the Leadership Council on Interpersonal Violence, said the term is often misused; her organization found in 2008 that approximately 58,000 children per year are forced to live in an abusive home by American family courts yearlylargely due to the false diagnosis of parent alienator to a protective parent.

Why would anyone writing an article that nowhere claims that Peter Goffstein, the custodial parent, is abusive, cite a claim by an organization to the effect that courts give custody to abusive parents? It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s utterly irrelevant to the rest of the article.

But then, why would anyone writing anything cite Joyanna Silberg, who is surely one of the least responsible commentators extant?

I suppose the answer is what it so often is with the “protective mother” crowd. When you don’t have anything with which to support your threadbare and, as often as not, patently false claims, you end up just throwing stuff at the wall in the hopes some of it sticks. Volpe did the same and the wall’s still clean.

 

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