BY RAQUEL OKYAY AND MICHAEL VOLPE
A leading New York forensic psychiatrist told the Rockland County Times that family court proceedings, to the detriment of families, are bought and paid to the highest parental bidder.
“This sort of thing happens in more than half the custody battles that I am involved in,” said Dr. Michael H. Stone, professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons. “The parent with the most control – the most money – tends to prevail irrespective of the merits of the given custody case.”
The best suited parent for custody or visitation is not always the parent who receives custody and visitation from the civil court arena, he said. “The parent with the most money can hire an attorney of bigger quality; they also can make one motion and counter motion after another – exhausting the resources of the other party.”
Susan Carrington, a Maryland mother, who is involved in a custody dispute in Rockland County Family Court, is one such example, he said.
“A Family Court judge has denied me any access to my children,” claimed Carrington. “I have not seen my children in more than four years.” She said the order was made despite no findings of abuse or criminal behavior and zero evidence she put her children in danger. Allegations of drug abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness were accepted – unfairly – by the court as the ‘gospel-truth’, she said.
“The things Susan is accused of committing are incorrect – false,” said Stone. “I felt she was an honest woman and quite capable of being a good mother to her two children.”
In 2007 Carrington said a Montgomery County circuit court granted her an Absolute Divorce from John McNelis and in 2009 the parents entered into a joint custody agreement. She was able to secure two final orders of protection against him for domestic violence after she proved a pattern of mental and physical abuse in Maryland, the only state in the nation which demands clear and convincing evidence before issuing a protective order, she said. All other states require a preponderance of the evidence.
“John was so angry I wanted a divorce; he begged me to stay,” she said. “He promised me three things he would do if I filed for divorce: Take the girls from me, bankrupt me and kill me. “ Two of the three have come to fruition, she said.
Having been unsuccessful in the Maryland Court system in severing the mother-child bond, and after being sanctioned by the court for frivolous motions, Carrington said McNelis, in violation of standing custody orders, re-located to Rockland County to pander a more friendly-to-him court atmosphere.
“He comes from a well-prominent family in Rockland County,” she said. “His father was the president of St. Thomas Aquinas College and is currently on the Rockland County Economic Development Board and Board of Directors of Provident Bank.”
In Nov. 2010 Carrington said McNelis filed a temporary protective order in New York based on the same uncorroborated allegations leveled unsuccessfully against her in Maryland. After granting McNelis the temporary protective order, the court in effect suspended her custodial rights when they placed her in supervised visitation without a hearing, she said. “Supervised visitation required me to drive 5 hours for a 45-minute supervised visitation with my daughters.” The temporary restraining order of protection was dismissed in March 2011, she said.
It is not unusual for an abuser to accuse their victim of abuses they inflict themselves, she said. “All of the things John accuses me of are things he does.” During the custody trial in Maryland, for example, she said when both parties were court ordered to be drug tested; it was McNelis who tested positive for cocaine, and Carrington who tested negative for illegal drugs.
According to Maryland Judiciary CaseSearch Records, McNelis has been arrested multiple times and found guilty for violating protective orders, possession of cocaine and illegal steroids.
“Rockland County Family Court refuses to see or hear evidence from Montgomery County who still has jurisdiction,” said Carrington. “I never had a custody hearing in New York – I have a legal right to tell my side of the story.”
McNelis produced witnesses who prepared reports that twisted or invented facts, she said. “A one-sided forensic psychologist – a hired gun – presented a report recommending supervised visitation because of my alleged instability, when she never, ever, even met me.” This was the first of several reports made by different psychologists who relied heavily on the false accusations of McNelis, she said.
This is what is so troubling about the Carrington case, said Michael H. Stone, who has 50 years experience in clinical psychiatry. “Some of the reports on the part of the psychologists who had examined her were not medical people.” There is no accountability to what is being reported, he said. “They have given opinions about medication at various times which are really not accurate.”
Experts, hired by McNelis, pretended that medication prescribed to Carrington has affected her mind, he said. “They make all kinds of accusations which cannot stand up under close examination – especially by someone who is a psycho-pharmacologist or psychiatrist.”
Stone said he prepared a detailed chart to the court showing Carrington’s use of medication over the years, and how that use did not amount to drug abuse. “The last few years she really has taken pretty much nothing.” But the court is not paying attention to other opinions, he added. “There seems to be an unwillingness to play fair in her case.”
Claims of Carrington having a borderline personality disorder are also untrue, he said. “The people who have thrown these labels around are people with no great expertise or any great standing in the area of personality disorders.”
Stone, who is a widely acknowledged expert in personality disorders, said if someone is accusing Carrington of a personality disorder, they do not fully understand its meaning. “Susan does not fulfill the criteria for any kind of personality disorder and she never has.”
The combination of continued protective orders – illegally converted to custody orders – and the inability to afford effective counsel has left her feeling “destroyed”, said Carrington. “They insult me, belittle me, and treat me like a piece of trash.” By Feb. 2011, the court suspended all visitations and all contact with her children despite any showing of bad parenting, she said. “A criminal has more rights than I do.”
Carrington has filed an appeal to the Maryland circuit court asking them to resume jurisdiction of the custody dispute where it belongs, said Barbara S. Schwartz, a trial attorney, who has recently been hired to represent Carrington. She said their court brief alleges numerous conflicts of interest in violation of state laws and New York Judicial Codes of Ethics.
According to the brief, the New York Courts were required to abide by the Maryland Shared Custody Orders and to abide by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. To date, the New York Courts have refused to recognize Maryland determinations and failed to register the orders, said Schwartz.
McNelis allegation that Carrington is a drug addict was already heard in a conflict-free Maryland court and was found to be without merit, she said. “The Maryland court determined Carrington to be a ‘fit and proper’ parent and ‘clean and sober’ and the court ordered that there be no blackout periods of visitation.”
The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, a non-profit organization, filed an amicus brief in support of Carrington in her appeal to the Maryland court. The brief avers that a key witness in the case failed to take into account the history of domestic violence and relied inappropriately on the Rorschach Test – which is not designed to be used in custody evaluations – to evaluate Carrington.
“The science of custody evaluation is so in its infancy that our ability to rely on its results should be extremely low,” said Dr. Joyanna Silberg, President of the Leadership Council. “We have found that faulty diagnoses by psychological experts in custody cases are widespread and especially affect victims of abuse.”
Carrington said it was the court that forced a separation between her and her children, and now it is the court who is blaming her for the separation. At a recent hearing, Warren said: “To restart contact with these two little girls who don’t know their mother now and are probably pretty terrified of their mother now, is what I would think, and that’s not what I would think is a good situation for little children.”
The family court system is trying to force her to give-up her parental rights, said Carrington.
“I will never give up on my daughters,” she said. “My girls deserve to have a mom.”
Raquel Okyay is a freelance writer often featured on the Human Events website