1. Divorce does not end conflict. It just transfers the conflict into new arenas. (Actually, I have found this is a great laugh-line when talking to divorce lawyers or family court judges: "Divorce ends conflict." Hysterical, if ironic, laughter.)
In this particular case, Marc and Tonya Herschfus continued to argue for three years after their divorce over the religious upbringing and medical care of their son.
2. The conflict sometimes escalates, as the stakes are higher. In this case, Tonya accused her former husband of abusing their son.
The trial court cited the “numerous post-judgment divorce proceedings” and lawsuits filed by Marc Herschfus against Tonya Herschfus. Tonya Herschfus filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and instigated Marc Herschfus’s arrest on a Friend of the Court (FOC)bench warrant. Jacob was the subject of four Child Protective Services referrals and investigations and was subjected to numerous medical examinations, psychological counseling, and an interview regarding potential sexual abuse.
No evidence of child abuse was ever found.
3. The family court ends up investigating the most personal and detailed aspects of people's lives. When parents can not cooperate, whether they are married or not, the court steps into the middle of their lives. In this particular case, religious practice was one of the issues in dispute:
As part of the divorce settlement, the parties signed a document outlining specific terms for raising Jacob in that religion (the “Upbringing Document”). ... The trial court found that the parties “have different views on how strictly to observe their religion,” such as in relation to driving on holy days. The trial court noted that Marc Herschfus hired a private investigator to follow Tonya Herschfus on holy days in 2006 and caught Tonya Herschfus driving with Jacob. The trial court found that Tonya Herschfus was clearly “attempting to hide the fact that she is driving from [Marc Herschfus]. The message to Jacob, of course, is that it is appropriate to deceive his father.” The trial court noted that the parties also disagreed about the use of kosher food. Tonya Herschfus believed that Marc Herschfus had brainwashed Jacob to read the food labels at her house. She also testified that Jacob refused to eat at her non-Jewish family’s home on Thanksgiving 2006. Tonya Herschfus testified that Jacob acted “troubled and withdrawn” even
after she promised that she would only give him kosher foods.
The trial court found that Jacob was in turmoil given the different religious observances of his parents. The rules at Marc Herschfus’s home and Jacob’s religious school were inflexible, while Tonya Herschfus was more lax, causing him “substantial stress.” Jacob sought “structure and guidance” but felt “conflict and divided loyalty.” Jacob’s school principal testified that Jacob is a “loner,” “hyper and easily angered,” and the other children tease him. At the age of five, Jacob already saw a therapist to deal with stress and anxiety.
Notice that these kinds of issues are usually none of the government's business. We don't ordinarily invite agents of the state to examine these kinds of issues within our families. Because parental cooperation has broken down, the state gets drawn into these intimate matters, which ought properly be none of the government's businss. The court went to great lengths to emphasize that each parent could practice any relgion they wanted, but that they were compelled to comply with their agreement. (I originally found this case in a blog that does religious freedom issues.)
4. There is some evidence that custodial fathers are more apt to foster healthy relationships with mothers than the reverse. (See Warren Farrell's book,Father and Child Reunion on this point.) This case illustrates this.
The trial court noted that Dr. Okla opined that Marc Herschfus was “more likely to foster a positive relationship” than Tonya Herschfus. ... The trial court further noted that Dr. Okla testified that Tonya Herschfus had an “inappropriate affect” when discussing the sexual abuse allegations, was suspicious of Marc
Herschfus, prevented Jacob from having a comfortable relationship with Marc Herschfus, may have coached Jacob to make allegations against Marc Herschfus, and made inappropriate remarks in front of the child. To the contrary, Dr. Okla found Marc Herschfus to be appropriately concerned and less angry than Tonya Herschfus, although he was worried, frustrated, and anxious.
5. Not only did this mother make false accusations of child abuse, she also accused her husband of domestic violence, a charge which was never substantiated.
During the current custody hearing, Tonya Herschfus claimed that she sees a therapist because of domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of Marc Herschfus. She testified that Marc Herschfus is angry and intimidating, and that she is afraid of him. Tonya Herschfus secured a personal protection order against Marc Herschfus during the initial divorce proceedings; however, the trial court noted thatThe upshot of this case: In the absence of parental cooperation with each other, the court modified the custody agreement to give primary custody to the father, rather than shared custody. As far as I can tell, the court levied no penalty against the mother for her false allegations of child abuse and domestic violence.
domestic violence was not “a significant issue” at that time. Marc Herschfus denies that he ever abused Tonya Herschfus and claims that Tonya Herschfus assaulted him during one of Jacob’s doctor appointments.