[I am reporting on custody cases sometimes called “high-conflict.” But I call them “high-control” because one parent is using Family Court as a tactic to control the family. After two decades studying these cases, I believe that adversarial litigation does irreparable damage to families in this court. We need a chief judge willing to work at changing this court in ways that would make it less profitable to private contractors and less costly to families and taxpayers.]
One common tactic of control used by abusers is to provoke their families and then to videotape their enraged response. This “evidence” is taken to judges and news reporters to document the alleged “instability” of victims of abuse. Vincent had testified before Judge Shawcross about using video to raise his son:
I videotaped [my 3-year-old son] throwing a temper tantrum . . . I bought a VCR camcorder and videoed the children’s every move . . . dozens of hours of the children doing everything, including going to the bathroom and eating and just being cute. . . . [Once when my wife went out] the child dropped to the floor and started to cry. . . and I tried video taping him whimpering and crying . . . it shows me being relatively quiet, I might have said, are you done, are you done yet. It’s –- Your Honor, the purpose of the taping is nothing but a parent in regards to what a child does” (Transcript, 10/28/93: 12-13)
Vincent's pattern of humiliating his wife and children with embarrassing videos and photos continued throughout this case for the next thirteen years. (In 2003, his then 14-year-old son asked Judge Howard Lipsey to let him and his sister return to their mother after 30 months in their father's sole custody. The teen testified to a laundry basket full of videotapes in his father's bedroom.)
October 1994 When his wife and children moved to Illinois, Vincent had hired a detective agency to trail them. In October he used these private investigators to supervise his visits in Illinois and had them write reports criticizing the mother when she argued with Vincent.
November 1994 Trying to meet Vincent’s demands, Chief Judge Jeremiah agreed to let the children, then 4 and 5, visit Vincent, his parents, and his older son in New Jersey for Christmas. The Chief agreed that Vincent's parents could supervise the visits.
March 1995 Judge John Mutter ordered "Vincent" to pay his first wife $11,670 in delinquent child support, but Vincent claimed a change in circumstances made him unable to pay child support to either wife.
April 1995 In one hearing, Chief Judge Jeremiah worked out details for the father’s supervised visit and an evaluation of the daughter. The next day, the father’s lawyer, Michael Hagopian, said no, they had not agreed to the evaluation. Jeremiah exploded. He left the bench, then returned to the courtroom to apologize and said: “I was wrong to lose my temper.”
[Observing this in the courtroom, I thought the Chief finally saw the mind games that abusive controllers play as they make agreements one day and deny them the next. This is one of the reasons mediation should never be attempted in custody cases where one parent has a history of coercive control. I found the Chief’s reaction understandable and appropriate. His explosion, followed by self-doubt and an apology, were the same reaction abusers expect from their victims.]
May 1995 Appellate attorney Lauren Jones completed a pre-briefing statement for Vincent to appeal the decisions of Jeremiah and Shawcross to the Supreme Court. While spending significant funds on litigation, Vincent continued to say he could not pay court-ordered support for his three children.
September 1995 Justice Kathleen Voccola held two hearings and determined that there was no change of circumstance warranting the children to be placed in Vincent’s custody in Rhode Island, and they could remain in Illinois.
November 1995 After his October visit with the children, Vincent sent an underwater photo of his 5-year-old daughter’s crotch in her bathing suit to his 6-year-old son. The strap of a life jacket had tightened between her legs revealing her labia. She was outraged when her brother received that photo among others their father had sent him from their visit.
[The drawing with the words “vary, vary, vary angree” was made with a counselor at St. Mary’s Shepherd Program to represent the girl’s feelings about her father humiliating her with this photo. She said she was angry enough to smash soda bottles.]
March 1996 The mother, who had grown up in Illinois, learned to drive in winter weather. She always carried a shovel and sand in her trunk, and they often made the trip back to Rhode Island for hearings on Vincent's motions. Once they came through a terrifying ice storm, and her son, 7, became distraught. At school, he was learning to write by phonics. So she asked him to focus on writing a story about their trip. Here it is:
They reached Rhode Island, but when their mother went to court, she discovered that Judge Voccola had gone on vacation, and the hearing was cancelled. Some courts might notify litigants traveling from a distance. But such courtesies are not common in Rhode Island's Family Court.
May 1996 Vincent felt he was gaining the upper hand. He purchased the children’s plane tickets to Rhode Island for Father’s Day and announced that he would keep them an additional week. He told their mother:
I urge you to consider my offer of $10,000 to ease your way to Rhode Island. The actions of the Court ... should give you a realistic idea of the progress I am making toward re-uniting myself with the children with you or without you….
NEXT: 9.F. How Dr. Carole Jenny rescued Kevin Aucoin from "Vincent"