Psychologist Ronitte Vilker came to court Friday to testify about her work with "Tracy." It is not something psychotherapists want to do, but the hearing was one of the most valuable I have seen in this courtroom.
Tracy sought out Dr. Vilker's help voluntarily. This therapist operates on a higher plane than the handful of psychologists whose patients endure (and pay for) sessions under the duress of a court order.
Vilker has been seeing Tracy since 2009. They focus on the trauma of the court proceedings that produce "ambiguous" loss and grief.
Can you define that? asks Judge Debra DiSegna.
When a child dies, Vilker explains, there is finality that allows the bereaved parent to grieve, get some closure, and gradually move on.
But Tracy has been cut off from normal communications with her daughter for years. She does not know where or how "Jenny" is or what the future holds for them. The court process never comes to a conclusion. There is no possibility of closure. This ambiguity means that healing cannot come.
Such loss is traumatic for Tracy--and certainly for Jenny as well, the doctor adds. From her work with children she asserts that Jenny will need therapy for what she is going through right now.
(Her explanation is relevant to every custody case where lawyers plunder the deepest pockets of family wealth by prolonging the process until a child ages out of the system at 18.)
What is Dr. Vilker's diagnosis of Tracy?
From her Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) she gives the code for Asperger Syndrome, noting that this name will not appear in the DSM's next edition, but probably something like High-Functioning Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Do many people have this disorder? asks Tracy's lawyer, Keven McKenna.
At M.I.T., says the doctor. ASD is common among engineers.
Only recently has our understanding evolved to recognize that these neurological wiring disorders occur on a spectrum. Higher functioning individuals can learn in childhood to compensate for symptoms, like their difficulty picking up social cues. Though Tracy was not diagnosed in childhood, her mother and uncle helped her in ways much like the therapy given to children with ASD today.
Tracy has been diligent in seeking therapy. At first she met weekly with Vilker, then twice a week and never missed a session. She has improved steadily, says the doctor. She has gained coping skills. Even in the courtroom, the doctor notes, she saw Tracy get up and stand against a wall, a technique she learned to calm herself.
I look at the stenographer . . . the sheriff . . . the judge listening intently. Vilker is describing behavior we've all seen in this courtroom.
Attorney Gifford asks which ASD characteristics do not apply to Tracy. Dr. Vilker reads through the codes: Tracy does not have any problems with language skills. She does not lack empathy. Indeed, she is well known for going above and beyond to help others, adults and especially children.
Gifford asks if Vilker has given Tracy any other diagnosis than ASD?
What is it?
Did Tracy ever say that "Barbara" abused her?
Yes. But that was not the focus of the therapy.
Gifford pursues another line of questioning. Does Vilker know Dr. Karin Huffer, who writes about Legal Abuse Syndrome--how courts traumatize litigants and how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides accommodations for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including that induced by abusive tactics in the courtroom? Vilker has heard Huffer's name, but not much else.
Then Gifford asks a question that makes my jaw drop.
(Unlike most other courts, many Family Court judges do not let people write in the courtroom. So I cannot record anything exactly.)
But Attorney Gifford asks something like: "Does Tracy take any responsibility for why she has no contact with her daughter?"
[TO BE CONTINUED]
Color of Law Custody Cases
Color of Law Custody Cases
Rhode Island and other states often violate civil rights in civil courts when officials threaten to separate children from protective parents who are their lifeline. These cases may include "color of law" abuses that push the boundaries of law. Judges who allow color of law abuse in their courtrooms are guilty of "color of office."
In Family Court, we give judges ultimate power over people’s lives while taking away their curiosity, concern, and even their ability to inquire about what is really happening in these cases. This transfers the power to guardians ad litem and lawyers. These officers of the court can convince a judge--through false allegations that are frequently off the record--to remove children, imprison innocent parents, then bankrupt them through years of frivolous motions, and forbid them to talk about it--all under color of law.
In domestic abuse custody cases, this enables the abusive parent to gain extraordinary power and control over the protective parent and the children.
Here is more information about color of law: