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March 13, 2019

The Reason Why Our Work is Important: A DV LEAP Client Story

Michelle* was in a custody battle with the father of their nine-year-old son. The son, Daniel*, accused his dad of sexual touching and Michelle also reported violent abuse by her ex-husband. She had been represented by private counsel but could no longer pay as her resources had been drained. This led her to DV LEAP for a pro bono appeal.  

In December 2017 the DC Superior Court’s final decision was that the son’s abuse reports were false and were triggered by the mother’s own extreme anxiety and “persecutory ideations.”  While rejecting the claim that Michelle had coached the child to fabricate his abuse, the court speculated that the child (and his older brother) was lying about sexual abuse claims because he sensed that his mother hated his father, and this was some how pleasing to her. The court, having already, in an ex parte hearing instigated by the Guardian Ad Litem, removed the child from Michelle, made the custody switch permanent, and granted her only undefined unsupervised visitation.  She has seen him for no more than 1.5 hours/week ever since.   

DV LEAP accepted Michelle’s case for review for potential appeal. After reviewing 40 days of court transcript, DV LEAP identified an important legal error in the court’s order: It had neglected to retain control of the decisions of whether the mother could achieve unsupervised visitation and the amount of supervised visitation time, thereby unconstitutionally delegating these issues and control to the father and the visitation center.

DV LEAP determined this appeal must be pursued out of concern for Michelle and the child. Further, the court’s theory of why two children would fabricate sexual abuse has no scientific or legitimate basis; this analysis is essentially a “parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) analysis without the label. DV LEAP stands firm that PAS is widely rejected junk science and should not be invoked. We were also troubled that a local GuardianAd Litem for this child refused to advocate for his wishes and instead treated his reports and his mother’s efforts to keep him safe as evidence of mental disorders, using a PAS-type analysis. Our Legal Director prepared the Opening Brief, which was filed in November 2018 as well as the Reply Brief, which was filed in January 2019. In a positive development, the DC Court of Appeals has agreed to hear an oral argument in the case.

 

*Pseudonyms

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