A Michigan custody battle makes national headlines and shows how it’s the children who become the innocent victims, stuck in the middle of their parents’ dysfunction.

By Henry S. Gornbein, Family Lawyer

concept for friendship friends team teamwork love and help with paper manOn June 24, 2015, three young children were sent to Children’s Village in Oakland County, Michigan. Their crime? Refusal to have lunch with their estranged father who has been embroiled in a bitter divorce with their mother for almost six years. The frustrated judge found the children in contempt for failure to follow her orders and ordered them to be confined at Children’s Village.

Friday, July 10, 2015. After a media cyclone, a flurry of motions, and an emergency hearing in open court, the judge released the children. They were sent to Camp Tamarack, a highly regarded  overnight camp. Intensive counseling was to follow. (1)

A Classic Never-Ending Divorce

The divorce between Maya Eibschitz Tsimhoni and Omer Tsimhoni is the classic never-ending divorce.

I was the original attorney for Maya. She and her husband are Israeli. They resided in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Maya is a prominent pediatric eye surgeon and Omer is a GM executive. They had marital problems including domestic violence. A divorce action was filed in Ann Arbor, but later dismissed. They had three young children. Omer, unhappy in America, suddenly returned to Israel with a GM job transfer. After several months of separation, Maya returned to Israel with the children in an attempt to salvage the marriage. But Maya became a virtual prisoner in Israel. She and the children were closely monitored by her husband. After several months of misery she escaped and fled with the children back to Michigan.

Omer filed a Hague Convention suit claiming that the children had been kidnapped by Maya and should be returned to Israel. After a Federal Court trial in Michigan, the children were allowed to remain with their mother. The focus of a Hague Convention action is on what the habitual residence of the children is. The focus is on the children, and not the parents. The ruling was that Michigan was their habitual residence.

In December of 2009, Maya filed a divorce action in Oakland County, Michigan. The main issue was over custody of the children.

Due to the history of domestic violence and the different legal systems, Maya feared that if the children ever visited in Israel they would never be allowed to leave. The case was extremely contentious. After many motions and court dates, a trial occurred with a Judgment of Divorce entered on August 8, 2011. The saga continues to this day. Maya is on her ninth attorney and Omer, his second or third. Abuse and parental alienation allegations fill the court record.

Fast forward to 2015. The judge has an excellent reputation. She becomes extremely frustrated and orders the children to have lunch with their father in the courthouse cafeteria – a neutral supervised environment. The children refuse. Despite repeated court orders, the children claim that they saw their father hit their mother and will not speak to him. The children have attorneys of their own and a court- ordered guardian. On June 24, 2015, the children, now 9, ll, and 14 were ordered to the Children’s Village. This is a facility for children who are involved in situations ranging from delinquency to serious crimes. A firestorm ensues.

Was incarceration the correct ruling? No. The children are excellent students who are also fine musicians and well adjusted in their school. Their teachers have picketed outside the courthouse on their behalf.

No One Wins

The children are the innocent victims of this disaster. Was there domestic violence? I believe that there was. Was there parental alienation? Yes.

What is the solution where there are no relatives here in the United States? Sending them to camp and getting them into intensive therapy to deprogram them is critical. They need to have a relationship with both parents.

The father will be seeking custody, and the mother will continue to fight. The never-ending divorce will sadly continue. This case is complicated not only because of the extreme psychological issues but also because the parents live thousands of miles away from each other in Israel and the United States. The children have spent most of their lives here in Michigan.

Sadly, too many adults lose their sanity and become entangled in the legal system. No one wins. The best decisions are those made by a couple unwinding their marriage and not by a judge.

These are some of my thoughts. What are yours?

In my book, Divorce Demystified, Everything You Need to Know Before You File for Divorce, a chapter discusses psychological issues involved in a divorce. The worst situation is labeled “the never-ending divorce.” This is where one or both spouses refuse to let go and are unable to move on. Domestic violence and emotional issues are just two examples of many reasons people remain entrenched in battle long after the legal divorce. The children become the innocent victims, stuck in the middle of their parents’ dysfunction.

Henry S. Gornbein, Esq. is a leading expert in family law and has been practicing in Michigan for more than 40 years. Gornbein has written frequently on divorce topics. Divorce Demystified is available at Amazon.com as a softcover or e-book. www.lippittokeefe.com