I have recently taken great interest in the subject of Parental Alienation.
I personally know Jerry Mastrangelo, the father who has brought this relatively unheard of subject to the
forefront of the news. Jerry wants one thing...to achieve a normal relationship with his children. Unfortunately,
his efforts have been impeded by his ex-wife who has poisoned the minds of their kids and managed to
brainwash them into believing they should not be with him.
The teenage years are some of the most important ones in a child's life. A daughter needs her father and sons
need a role model. Both of which Jerry could provide with flying colors. Nothing One day, I have no doubts that
the children will come to know, respect and love Jerry for all his efforts. I also have no doubts that they will also
come to realize what their mother has done to their lives and unfortunately for her, they will reject her for it.
I am concerned that this has been allowed to happen. Certainly, there are cases where a parent should not be
allowed to be with their children. The reasons are obvious. This is definitely not one of them but is an instance
of emotional child abuse on the part of the custodial parent. What happened to "in the best interest of the
children..."? It's shameful this has been allowed this to continue.
The system has certainly let this one fall through the cracks.
Last week I learned the true meaning of Parental Alienation and its' "trickle-down" effects. I attended a
wake last Friday for Nick Mastrangelo, Sr. He was a wonderful father to his four children, devoted
husband to his wife of 61 years and grandfather to seven. As expected, most all of his family was there
to lend each other support during this very difficult time. Unfortunately, for Jerry, Nick's eldest son, his
triplet children were not there sitting next to him. Jerry, a man who has been a caring, loving and
wonderful father could not benefit from one of those rare times when nothing comforts like a child's own
love and caring. After all, this is what Jerry and his father before him strived to reinforce in the minds of
all the Mastrangelos...there is nothing like family. Luckily, Jerry had his ever devoted girlfriend Jennifer to
Jerry had asked his ex-wife Trudianne Formica, out of respect to his mother and siblings, not to attend
the wake with the triplets. It was a night to mourn his father and being that they have only seen their
grandparents once in the past two years and never visited their grandfather while sick, either in the
hospital or at home as he was dying, their presence would be upsetting to his mother, sisters and
brother in their fragile state. In a phone conversation, Jerry asked Trudianne to abide by their wishes.
She threatened that if he did not put it in writing, she would show up. When Jerry persisted, she promptly
hung up on him. This certainly wasn't a time for legal maneuvers. thankfully, she had the sense to keep
them away from the wake. It's important to note that up until the divorce and for some time after, the
children enjoyed a healthy and loving relationship with their paternal grandparents. Now, in a single
gesture, with a wave of her hand, their mother has erased away the triplet's entire paternal family most of
all their loving father as well as their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Their grandfather
passed away with the heartbreak of not seeing his beloved triplet grandchildren while he was alive and
became the latest innocent victim of this senseless situation. Who benefits? Certainly not the children.
The next day was the funeral for Mr. Mastrangelo and the church was packed with people wanting to
show their respects for this very special man and his family. The priest who said the mass suggested
that anyone who was touched in any way by Mr. Mastrangelo, to come visit his home to share their
memories with the family. He suggested that the grandchildren ask to hear more stories about their
grandparents and parents. Unfortunately, the triplets won't be there to benefit from the insight into the life
of their father and grandfather, who they should surely grow to emulate. Jerry wrote a beautiful eulogy,
extolling the virtues of his wonderful father. Often choking up, it was clear he was not only mourning the
loss of his father but also the loss of his three children, bringing a tear to everyone's eye. He spoke of
the loving and devotion shown to his father by his two sisters, brother and himself. The triplets sat in the
back of the church with their mother. Was she extending an olive branch? Was it for show? Whatever the
reason their presence spoke volumes...their mother wields an enormous amount of power over their
children. She can "insist" that they attend the mass for their grandfather but she refuses to encourage
the children to have any semblance of a relationship with their father. It was evident from the heartfelt
tears shed by two of his three children that they were not only mourning the loss of their grandfather but
they were also grieving their relationship with their father. The question keeps resonating in my
mind...WHY? Why is this allowed to continue? What is the rationale? Where is Dr. Richard Formica,
Trudianne's husband in all this? Does he actually support the alienation? With a child of his own,
doesn't he understand the importance of this paternal bond? Don't either of them understand this
dragging on only makes the lawyers richer?
It's been almost a week now since services were held for Mr. Mastrangelo. My guess is that it was not an
olive branch that was being extended. Not one of the triplets has called their grandmother since her
husband passed away almost two weeks ago. After one short conversation with his son, who he
occasionally speaks to, Jerry has called daily. His phone calls go unanswered. He also calls Trudianne
and her husband Dr. Richard Formica. They don't pick up their phones. One can only guess that the
children's presence was indeed for show, as it is clear the children are her puppets. Unfortunately for
her, the performance was only for her benefit.
In his eulogy, Jerry noted his father's words of encouragement...'never give up'. I am certain he won't
disappoint him in his fight to become a father again to his three children.
Against my better judgment, I have stumbled into yet another post-judgment divorce case, this time, on behalf of
a former client, now friend, who is not seeing a couple of his children. There is a guardian ad litem, an attorney
for the minor child, a therapist for the kids, a reunification therapist, lawyers for mom and dad., and, of course,
mom and dad themselves. The kids have been evaluated, and re-evaluated by skilled professionals in child
psychology and development.
All these adults are looking at this mess and wondering how the "best interests" of the children might be
It occurs to me that the standard we are applying in this case is horribly wrong. Where I grew up, nine-tenths of
what professionasl ponder in these cases would have been resolved with a few swift swats to the
hindquarters. Letting kids call the shots on who they will and will not see strikes me as bizarre.
Too often children who would never surface on the radar of the Department of Children and Families as in need
of services of any kind become the target of lavish therapeutic regimens incident to a divorce. If the divorcing
parents can't, or will not, agree about how to raise their children, in steps evaluators, social workers, lawyers
and a judge or two. Everyone strains to do what is the very best for the kids.
Perhaps we're trying too hard.
I sat in the deposition of a reunification therapist the other day and he opened my eyes. Perhaps the best
interest of the child standard, the family law equivalent of criminal law's presumption of innocence, sets an
impossibly high bar. Maybe the standard should be "good enough," the therapist mused.
Consider how little is known about the human psyche. Psychology is a new science, still struggling to get its
methodological feet, and marked by the sectarian conflicts of a discipline still unsure of itself. Then consider
how little we know about family dynamics. One child matures amid privation and rancor and then succeeds;
another child faces the same obstacles and fails. The fault line between nature and nurture, and the
imponderable role that character plays in charting one's course, makes limning the forces actually at work in a
developing child almost impossible.
In a high-conflict divorce, former lovers are transformed into hated foes, the unseen bonds of attachment now
rewired and redirected, but channeling the same life-transforming, and probably near insane, passions.
Children, struggling to emerge from dependency to mastery, have to fight their way through the maze their
parents create in all families; in high-conflict families, these children must learn, somehow, to drink their
parents' poisoned love.
I am not sure there is an expert alive able to forecast how to get these children out from under the shadows
their warring parents cast. I am reminded of Tolstoy's opening line in Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all
alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
I suspect that attempting to impose an ideal typical version of the "best interest" standard on fractured families
does far more harm than we recognize. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on professionals, all of
whom are now on a first name basis with one another, and still, the hard cases remain on the court's docket.
While we pine away for perfection, we tolerate the expensive and perpetual failures we are powerless to cure.
Does it make sense, for example, to socialize all guardians ad litem and attorneys for minor children in a
state-mandated training course, designed to introduce them to the key players in an industry manufacturing the
fiction that we can really know what is best for a child? In Connecticut, any person hoping to serve in such roles
must, by court rule, attend a 30 hour course intended to do just what, exactly - yield a Rolodex with all the right
names and numbers?
How many families are now trapped in interminable court proceedings because the parents cannot agree
about how to raise their children? What if the standard were transformed from the "best interest" to something
more realistic? Why not a standard of "good enough"? That was certainly the standard applicable in my home
after my father fled the responsibilities of parenthood when I was a child. I am now grateful he left; I was spared
the gauntlet of officious intermeddlers the state now thrusts upon children in the vain hope to get childhood,
For many, childhood is a wasteland they are happy enough to survive. That is the way it has always been.
Making childhood a therapeutic wasteland of competing experts, warring parents, and fee-driven professionals
seems irrepressibly sad to me. Are we serving the best interests of children, or the best interests of ourselves,
we rent-a-warriors forever in search of fees?
Let's experiment and submit conflicts about children to jury trials. We are seeking to raise new generations of
citizens, after all. The common sense of juries can do no worse than the experts, or so I suggest. And these
trials would cost a lot less than the protracted therapeutic purgatory we call family court. Let the parties propose
their remedies to a jury of their peers, and then let the parties live with the consequences.
Asking judges to determine what's best for children is like asking an artist equipped only with watercolors to
paint the portrait of a happy family: the results will only be impressionistic, lacking resemblance to anything we
actually see in the world around us, the very product of relying on expert of interpretations of the best interest
standard. That's not a very happy picture.
Reprinted courtesty of the Connecticut Law Tribune.
|Whose "Best Interests" Served In Custody Wars?
Written by Norm Pattis
February 9, 2013
|Parental Alienation - A Malfunction in the Wheels of Justice
Written by Lorri Cavaliere.
October 11, 2012
- Family Court Needs New Start- Norm Pattis, New Haven Register- http://goo.gl/Muou2
- Triplets' aunt testifies at East Havener's 'alienation' trial- Randall Beach, New Haven Register-