Dad Battling for Custody of Kids Who Were Locked Up for Refusing to See Him

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The latest twist in the bizarre child-custody case in Michigan — which saw a judge order three siblings into juvenile detention recently for refusing to spend time with their father — has the shunned father stepping up his game by seeking full legal and physical custody of his children.

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Dad Omer Tsimhoni filed his motion in Oakland County Circuit Court on Wednesday, claiming that mom Maya Eibschitz-Tsimhoni has been a “constant roadblock” to his relationship with his kids, ages 9, 10, and 14, according to the Detroit Free Press. The motion says Eibschitz-Tsimhoni “is not a fit and proper person to have legal or physical custody of the children and should be allowed supervised parenting time only when a mental health professional deems it appropriate,” and requests that she be psychologically evaluated.

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The kids were punished by Oakland County Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca last month for not submitting to her demand that they foster a “healthy relationship” with their dad, and were sent to juvenile detention. But last week, after the case drew international attention, Gorcyca ordered that the children be transferred instead to a summer camp.

“I felt like I was watching them be executed,” Eibschitz-Tsimhoni told Fox 2 when her kids were sent away. “No matter how bad the divorce gets, I think the court should not punish the kids for that.”

According to the motion, the family lived in Israel before Eibschitz-Tsimhoni left with the children and filed for divorce in Oakland County in 2009; their father moved to the U.S. permanently at the start of this year. Tsimhoni says he has been “diligent” in his efforts to foster a relationship with his kids, and calls his ex-wife mentally unfit, saying she has alienated her children from him. In the past, Ebischitz-Tsimhoni had accused her ex-husband of abusing their 10-year-old.

Michigan-based Henry Gornbein, one of Ebschitz-Tsimhoni’s former divorce attorneys (she’s been through nearly 10, he says) and author of the book “Divorce Demystified,” has been following the twists and turns closely, and calls the entire case “off the wall.” He tells Yahoo Parenting that for full custody to be turned over to the father, there would need to be a complete hearing to determine whether placing the kids with Tsimhoni meets the “clear and convincing evidence standard” according the Michigan’s Child Custody Act. A dozen specific factors are looked at for such a decision, Gornbein explains, including the parent’s capacity to provide basic needs and affection, a parent’s mental and physical fitness, and the “reasonable preference” of the children in question. And that’s where this case gets sticky. How to get a clear reading on children’s preferences?

“Send the kids to a psychologist and really interview them, and see why they don’t want to see their father,” Barbara Rothberg, a New York–based divorce coach and custody mediator, tells Yahoo Parenting. “First you have to determine, from the kids’ perspective, that it’s appropriate for him to see the kids. And you must interview the kids both together and separately.”

Rothberg is doing just that with children in a similar case in New York, in which a judge has ordered the kids to see their father, she says. After determining that the children don’t want to see their dad because their mother has scared them about the possibility that he’d abduct them, Rothberg has focused on explaining to the mother that she must follow the court mandate, and that giving her kids permission to feel something other than fear toward their father would be beneficial for the entire family.

“My guess is that this [motion for full custody] comes from a lawyer, because lawyers don’t think about relationships, but tend to inflame,” she says. “But this will scare the hell out of the mother, the mother will become more fierce, and the kids won’t want to see him even more. [Going for full custody] is the worst possible solution.”

Ken Neumann, though, a New York City–based family mediator and psychologist, sees more nuance in the situation. He notes that Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was a term coined by late psychiatrist Richard Gardner in the 1980s to explain the situation of one parent turning kids against the other during a divorce. And though it’s never been fully accepted by the psychology community, “it certainly exists,” Neumann tells Yahoo Parenting, adding: “Though sometimes a child’s refusal to see a parent is not a result of PAS, but is a legitimate response to that parent’s behavior, so it should never be assumed.” (Interestingly, he said, Gardner’s recommendation in a case of PAS is to switch custody to the parent who has been alienated. “It sounds extreme, I know,” he says.)

Neumann also advises family therapy in this case, but explains the father’s motion by noting, “In the legal system, he has no other avenue. So it’s really not a genuine ask, necessarily — though it may be in this case — but more of a way to get the court to take a close look at what’s really going on.” He adds that, on his first read of the case, including the juvenile detention order, “I thought, this is a crazy judge, a crazy father. But the lesson here is you’ve got to go past the sensationalism of what you first hear. [The judge’s order] forced the situation into court.”

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