A Long Island, N.Y., judge has sentenced a woman to six weekends in jail for repeatedly undermining her ex-husband's relationship with their two daughters.
Supreme Court Justice Robert A. Ross in Nassau County ruled that the mother, Lauren R., willfully violated a court order by deliberately alienating the elementary school-age children from her ex-husband, Ted R.
Ross held Ms. R. in civil contempt and ordered her to report to the Nassau County Correctional Facility every other weekend this summer.
Her term was to have begun on Friday, but was temporarily stayed pending appeal by a judge from the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, on Thursday.
"The evidence before me demonstrates a pattern of willful and calculated violations of the clear and express dictates of the parties' Stipulation of Settlement," Ross wrote in Lauren R. v. Ted R., 203699-02.
"The extensive record is replete with instances of attempts to undermine the relationship between the children and their father and replace him with her new husband, manipulation of defendant's parenting access, utter and unfettered vilification of the defendant to the children, false reporting of sexual misconduct without any semblance of 'good faith,' and her imposition upon the children to fear her tirades and punishment if they embrace the relationship they want to have with their father."
The extraordinary hearing to determine whether Ms. R. should be held in contempt for violating the couple's stipulation of settlement began in May 2009 and stretched over 23 days of hearings over the next nine months.
During the hearing, Mr. R. testified to dozens of occasions in which his ex-wife either interfered with his visitation rights or purposefully alienated the children from him.
The judge described about a dozen such incidents or patterns in his eight-page decision.
In the winter of 2007, for example, Ms. R. prevented Mr. R. from seeing his daughters for six weeks, Ross wrote.
"I observed the plaintiff smirk in the courtroom as defendant emotionally related how he was deprived of spending Hanukkah with his children, and was relegated to lighting a menorah and watching his daughters open their grandparents' presents in the back of his truck at the base of plaintiff's driveway," the judge wrote.
Mr. R. also testified that Ms. R. consistently scheduled theater outings and social activities with her children so that they would conflict with his visitation, thereby putting him in the position of either consenting to a missed visit or risking disappointing his daughters.
The "crescendo" of Ms. R.'s contempt involved false accusations of sexual abuse against Mr. R., the judge wrote.
"Allegations that defendant had injured the child were found to be baseless and, by making such allegations, plaintiff needlessly subjected the child to an investigation by Child Protective Services, placing her own interests above those of the child," Ross wrote. "This report was not made in 'good faith' -- rather, the investigating agency warned the mother not to re-utilize the allegations and her children in her custodial litigation with the defendant."
In addition to the contempt finding and the temporarily stayed jail sentence, Ross ordered a hearing to consider a change of custody and to hear Mr. R.'s application for more than $134,000 in attorney fees. Those hearings were postponed pending Ms. R.'s appeal.
Ms. R.'s attorney, Kieth I. Rieger of Barrocas & Rieger in Garden City, N.Y., praised Ross, but criticized the decision, likening it to last week's missed umpire call that cost a Detroit Tigers pitcher a perfect game.
"I think all of us make mistakes, and I think he's just made a good-faith, honest mistake in his assessment of this case," Rieger said. "That's why there's an Appellate Division. I think he just did not accurately assess my client."
Stanley Hirsch, also of Garden City, represented Mr. R.
"I'm very hopeful that this case will be some type of warning to those who don't have the children's best interests at heart when they conduct themselves with their spouses," Hirsch said. "It has great significance to my client, but I think it has a terrific overall impact on people who are going through a divorce and not getting along and involving the children in their disputes."