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