Salacious Evidence Allowed in New York Custody Case

DSC01152_2 (2)_2One of the cardinal rules of evidence in trial proceedings is that witnesses may only testify to facts that are relevant to the issues to be decided by the judge.

This same rule applies in family law litigation but is often ignored by lawyers and judges during the heat of battle. The theory goes that in family law cases, particularly where custody is at issue, anything goes, because it may bear on the legal problem before the court, who knows?

In a recent high-conflict custody case in Manhattan, New York, a fiery debate ensued between counsel when the husband’s lawyer, Eleanor Alter, cross-examined her client’s estranged wife, Lisa Mehos, about an abortion she had shortly after the couple separated. Her lawyer objected to the question characterizing it as “scandalous and outrageous” and querying its relevance to the issue of child custody.

To her dismay, opposing counsel convinced trial judge Lori Sattler that the question was proper as the wife’s medical records, disclosed in the proceeding, showed that on the weekend she had the medical procedure, she insisted on having care of the children, who were then dropped off at their grandmother’s home. Hardly a capital offence, but in custody litigation no stone is unturned in the quest to show that one or the other parent is uncaring and hypocritical, preferably both!

But Justice Sattler gave a second reason for allowing evidence of the wife’s abortion. Ms. Mehos had earlier testified that she was under extreme stress, all of which she laid at the feet of her husband, Manuel Mehos.

Justice Sattler accepted that a new relationship and an abortion might be the cause for the added stress, particularly because she had also testified that she never had men at her apartment. Ms. Alter argued:

“If this man was coming in the house, if she’s out of the house to see him, if it was date rape, that’s relevant.”

Certainly, counsel for Ms. Mehos decried the evidentiary links as tenuous at best, suggesting to the court that evidence of this nature “might go over well in Texas and Mississippi, but not here!”

Despite her valiant efforts on behalf of the wife, Emily Goodman’s objections were overruled.

Are there no limits on what a court needs to know to determine a child’s parenting plan? Apparently not.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Secret Divorce Shocks Widow

After 30 years of marriage Vivian Pitts Dowers, age 75, was having a hard time coping with the death of her husband, David Dowers, age 65, a man she had loved for years during their childless marriage. When she finally got around to going through his things she was shocked to discover divorce documents which showed that her husband had divorced her, eight years earlier!

The divorce order from the Manhattan Supreme Court was granted to Mr. Dowers based on his allegation that she had abandoned him due to financial difficulties. He also lied to the court by providing the Judge with a fake address for Ms. Dowers and swore he had served her with the divorce documents at her new residence. The truth was that they had lived together all along in their New York apartment, never having even separated.

Mr. Dowers fraud was devastating to her as it meant that she could not receive any inheritance or benefits from his death.

His survivng heirs, his children from an earlier relationship, were not at all sympathetic, as they fought to deny their step-mother her rightful entitlements and deprive her of a $44,000 life insurance payout and monthly pension income from his long tenure as a janitor at Columbia University.

Happily for Ms. Dowers a New York legal aid lawyer persuaded a judge that her husband’s tale of abandonment was false, the divorce order was nullified, and she got her money. So sorry for his kids…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang