Is joint custody appropriate in situations such as Jude?
The appellate court reviewed this question recently and rendered their opinion on April 3, 2017, just a few short months before Jude was killed by his mother in Orono.
Despite the high conflict between the parents, allegations of mental health of the mother, allegation of a biased custody evaluator, and a finding of one incident of domestic violence that the father rebutted successfully, the district court determined that joint custody and a graduation to equal parenting time was in Jude’s best interest. The appellate court made the following finding regarding the high conflict of the parents:
“Here, the district court found that the tension
between the parties was high and explained that
the stressful events of litigation caused each parent
to become more critical of the other. Despite this
high conflict, the district court determined that it
was in J.N.S.’s best interests to award joint custody
to the parties. In reaching this determination, the
district court considered testimony showing that
both parties were willing to cooperate in rearing
J.N.S. and reasoned that they would have fewer
reasons to expose J.N.S. to conflict once their
rights and duties were established by a court order.
Because the record supports the district court’s
determination, we cannot say that the district court
abused its discretion by awarding joint legal and
The problem with this picture is that these parents had been warring for a year and a half already. Anyone who has been through a custody suit knows how it consumes your life and is the greatest stress you will ever face. And if there is a mental health issue this will make it worse as we have seen in so many instances, this one being no exception. So in my opinion this was a little too late. There is guidance from case law stating that just requiring someone to even go through a custody battle is a burden. You can find more on that in Troxel v. Granville.
Whenever a death occurs, everyone reviews whether someone made an error. From the reading of this appeal, we believe that there is much that can be said about the court process itself, as is evident by the appellate court remarks.
Whether anyone could know how crazy a parent will get is another story. There was a psych eval ordered in this case in March 2015. I do not have a copy of this at this time. I do know that there is history of family courts ignoring psych evals, we know that the quality of psych evals can also be questionable, as well as the issue of when a psych eval is even constitutionally permitted are all issues that need to be reviewed.
As for the court process itself, the appellate court and trial courts have it all wrong when they refer to the judge as being the person to establish or grant rights. Rights are already established, the only real issue is that the parents cannot exercise these rights at the same time when they are no longer together or in agreement. The only thing that a court should be doing at the beginning is protecting those rights for all parties, both parents and child. When family courts implement constitutional guarantees, in all custody cases, including high conflict child custody disputes, including in cases where there is suspicion of mental health issues and domestic violence and abuse, I believe that you will see much fewer cases of missing truly grave or imminently dangerous situations for children.
Right now, the family court process encourages so many false allegations that most of the experts and the judges involved have taken these to be common and expected tactics for gaining leverage in a custody suit. this allows true danger of a child to be missed. This allows the courts to miss parental alienation, which I believe to be one of the danger signs for children. The family court process is run by greed, and it is my opinion that lack of constitutional protections is allowing greed and corruption has contributed to many divorce and child custody related deaths. Little boy Jude I’m afraid is a victim of this.
If you suspect that you are suffering similar problems and need some help and support:
If you would like more information on parental alienation, visit PAAO-USA.
If you would like more information on constitutional practices and how to protect rights constitutionally get our book called, “NOT in The Child’s Best Interest.” We have a multitude of other resources on this website as well.
If you would like to read the appeal yourself, you can download it here: Summers vs. Sandberg appeal