Could It Happen in Your Family?

DSC00507 (2)Tomorrow at 5 pm I’ll be doing an interview with Jill Egizii who is the host of her own show on blogtalkradio.com out of Springfield Illinois. Jill is a local politician and advocate for children with a special interest in parental alienation.

She’ll be discussing a story out of California involving pop radio icon Casey Kasem, now 81-years-old, who ruled the airwaves for decades as a music historian and deejay, best known for the popular show “American Top 40″ and its multiple spin-offs.

Mr. Kasem retired from radio and his impressive voice-over career in 2009 once he became debilitated by Parkinson’s disease. Recently, however, he has been back in the media spotlight as a result of a situation that is sadly, not uncommon.

Mr. Kasem’s three adult children, Mike, Julie and Kerrie, from his 7-year marriage to his first wife, Linda Meyers, have been refused contact with their father by his second wife, albeit of 33 years, whose relationship with his children was sour from the get-go in 1980.

Media reports indicate the children were very close to their father, who is of Lebanese heritage, and had regular contact with him until he became immobilized due to his illness and also lost his ability to speak.

Daughter Julie brought a conservatorship application in an attempt to become involved in his care, however, she dropped the court case after negotiating visiting time with her father’s wife, Jean Kasem.

The children’s desperate campaign to see their father has included “picketing” in front of the home he shares with Mrs. Kasem, all in an effort to gain access to him. But it is not only his children who are barred, but also close friends and long-time business associates, who participated in the protest outside his Holmby Hills estate in Los Angeles.

In December of last year, Mrs. Kasem consented to the children seeing their dad for twenty-minutes before being escorted out by a paid “bouncer”.

As a result of the profile of this family, one California legislator is proposing new law to protect disabled, elderly parents from “forced” estrangement, such as in this case.

Sadly, with the multiplicity of divorce and remarriage, there will be more cases like this and more elderly victims.

Kerrie Kasem will also be featured in this interview.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Why Do Parents Sometimes Act Like Children?

BarristerIn most major newspapers you can read a section called “Celebrating” where you will find the usual assortment of happy events: birth announcements, wedding anniversaries and high school graduation congratulations. Colour photos of happy, smiling faces abound.

But in the Vancouver Sun newspaper one morning, there was one Happy Birthday greeting that unsettled me. The contributor of the greeting wished his 8 year-old son a happy day, and reminded him that: “There’s not a day in the last five years that I have not thought about you…hopefully one day you will be in my life.. there’s so much you and I have missed…maybe next year you will be in my life.”

So, what’s the story here? From where I sit as a family law lawyer, a happy ending is probably unlikely. A number of scenarios come to mind.

Was the boy been abducted by his mother? Is this a case of parental alienation? Maybe the Courts have found this father unfit to parent? Or perhaps he is a victim of false molestation allegations? Is this young boy just a pawn in a dirty divorce?

Each of the scenarios described form a part of the work day of family law lawyers who take cases that no other lawyer wants to handle.

Reading between the lines, the parental pain is apparent and yet, the real victim is this young boy. The psychological literature tells us that kids raised with one parent missing from their lives will experience social, behavioral and psychological problems that children with two engaged parents may not.

Two questions arise: Why would a parent intentionally harm a child in this way? Why would a parent act like an angry child?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Custody Battle Poisons Children

BarristerParents who fight over child custody and access bring out the worst in themselves and often poison their children along the way. Divorce lawyers who are stuck in the middle of high conflict family disputes often remind their clients that children deserve both a mother and a father, and that a child immersed in conflict is usually headed for a disastrous future.

Frequently, the worst of these types of conflict peter out once the children mature, interact with their peers and begin to think for themselves. Some parents also eventually recognize that their anger hurts them more than it does their ex-spouse…but not always.

A recent court case in Illinois illustrates the worst possible outcome where parents refuse to put their children first and instead continue with angry reprisals and revenge, apparently oblivious to the seeds of destruction they are sowing, for themselves and their children.

In Miner and Miner v. Garrity 2011 IL App (1st) 1103023-U the Court of Appeal dealt with a lawsuit brought against Kimblerly Garrity, mother of the plaintiffs, Steven and Kathryn, who were 20 and 18-years old when they commenced their lawsuit.

Their father, attorney Steven Miner, together with two other attorneys, filed the suit for them which claimed damages of $50,000 each, alleging their mother had intentionally or negligently inflicted emotional distress on them during their young lives.

Mr. Miner was quick to point out in media interviews that he tried to talk his two children out of filing the lawsuit, but they insisted. His protestations are unbelievable in view of the claims he advanced on their behalf.

The Garrity/Miner marriage ended after ten-years in 1995. Mr. Miner was awarded sole custody of Steven and joint custody with his ex, of Kathryn, who resided primarily with him. So how bad an access parent was Kimberly Garrity?

The children’s grievances included their distress when their mother tried unsuccessfully to obtain primary residence of Kathyrn. She also allegedly treated the children unequally, requested medical receipts from their father before she would pay her one-half share, and referred to their father as a “Disneyland” dad.

Worse yet was the claim that when her mother began living with another man, Kathryn’s distress caused her to gain weight, which was only exceeded by her mother’s gall in taking a new name when she remarried, a change that upset Kathryn.

Even more petty was Steven’s complaint that his mother forced him to wear a seatbelt when he was 7-years old, and Kathryn’s upset at her mother’s refusal to take her to a car show. Both were also slighted by either no birthday or Christmas cards, or cards that were declared inappropriate and contained no cash or check for them.

One of the “inappropriate” cards from American Greetings showed a table full of red tomatoes with the centre tomato wearing googly eye glasses. The card read “Son I got you this birthday card because it’s just like you…different from all the rest.” On the inside Steven’s mother wrote “Have a great day! Love and Hugs, Mom xoxoxox”. How insensitive!

Not surprisingly, their litany of childish complaints impressed no one and simply confirmed their outrageous sense of entitlement, immaturity and lack of gratitude. Their father’s role in their claims of “bad mothering” deserves even greater rebuke. His participation was both contemptible and shabby.

Needless to say, their lawsuit was thrown out of court, as it should have been.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Parental Alienation Leads Court to Call Father a “Wallet”

There are many divorced fathers in Canada who believe they are nothing more than a “wallet” in their children’s eyes. It is rare however, for a judge to confirm that status in Reasons for Judgment, but that is exactly what Mr. Justice Gray did in his recent decision in Veneman v. Veneman 2012 ONSC 6324.

Mr. and Mrs. Veneman separated in 2004 after 11 years of marriage. Mr. Veneman left the family home but maintained the financial status quo and enjoyed a good relationship with the children, ages 8 and 11.

The apparent bliss of separation disappeared, however, when Mr. Veneman commenced a personal relationship with a woman he met on the internet. His ex-wife’s reaction was venomous as revealed in vulgar emails from her to Mr. Veneman where she called his girlfriend an “internet whore”.

At about the same time, Mr. Veneman decided that after two years of separation, the parties should reorganize their financial affairs. He closed the joint account that his wife and he shared since the date of separation and began paying voluntary child and spousal support.

Ms. Veneman’s campaign of abuse against Mr. Veneman was quickly adopted by his two girls who also began writing mean-spirited and disrespectful emails to their father. The children were particularly angered by their father when he brought his girlfriend to a birthday party for one of the girls hosted by the girl’s paternal grandparent. This was the first occasion they had met her, although Mr. Veneman told his children about her and their relationship.

As time went on, the girls also sent emails scolding their father for failing to provide sufficient funds to their mother. The Court found that Ms. Veneman liberally shared her views about his girlfriend and his financial contribution, all actions which eventually led to the termination of any father/daughter relationship.

Eldest daughter Maggie described her father in an email to him as “selfish, greedy, lying, back-stabbing, neglecting, blackmailing, bribing, idiotic, mean and just overall a stupid person”. This kind of poison most often originates from a parent who cannot see that their attitude is severely harming their children.

Despite the difficulties, Mr. Veneman continued to make every effort to reconnect and appease his children but all overtures were rebuffed by them.

With his older daughter approaching the age of nineteen and attending Queen’s University, Mr. Veneman brought an application to court asking for an order that his obligation to pay child support cease upon her birthday.

Several years earlier, he had agreed to an order that he pay 75% of his children’s post-secondary education costs, but he now argued that her termination of any relationship with him was cause for the court to reconsider his child support obligations.

Mr. Veneman relied on several cases where courts noted that an adult child’s unilateral and unreasoned abandonment of a parental relationship could lead to a termination of support. Other cases, however, were cited where the proposition was accepted that “estrangement, even at the sole instance of the child, should not be relevant”.

Judge Gray, however, did not need to grapple with which authority was correct as he was able to decide the case by finding that the father had not shown a material change in circumstances, which was the required test to vary a child support order. The judge held that when Mr. Veneman agreed to pay post-secondary expenses in 2009, he had no relationship with Maggie, and had no relationship now.

He declared that Mr. Veneman “was nothing more than a wallet” and said the blame for the alienation must be assumed by both parents.

It is here where I part company with the judge’s findings. It is startling to suggest that the clumsy, perhaps even insensitive, introduction of a new partner to one’s children who are 10 and 13, after two years of separation from their mother, constitutes conduct that is blameworthy.

In my view, Ms. Veneman’s immature behavior is the reason her children have ousted their father from their lives. I hope when the girls figure it out, which they will, they will clearly understand their mother’s role in a tragic family situation the judge called “irrational and avoidable”.

Interesting that if you are part of an intact family you can decide how much you want to contribute, if any, to your child’s education, but if you are separated or divorced the State decides.

Equally interesting is the absence of any reference to “parental alienation”. I guess if you don’t say it, it doesn’t exist.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang