Should She Stay or Should She Go? 

A bitter East Bay divorce has sparked a legal gender war, with huge ramifications for custodial parents who want to move their kids out of state.

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As it turned out, not only did Suzy want sole custody, she wanted to pack up with the kids and move to Cleveland, where she'd been accepted to law school. Gary, of course, objected. "They were very young," he says now, "and they would only know me as some individual; they wouldn't know me as their father."

The judge brought in a custody evaluator, psychologist Philip Stahl, to assess the situation. Family court judges rely heavily on the recommendations of experts like Stahl. After finishing his interviews, he concluded that the boys were too young -- Garrett was four, Devlen was two -- to have established an attachment to their dad that could withstand a cross-country move. Stahl said the boys would need more time near their dad.

So Suzy was stuck in the high-priced East Bay, living on $2,250 a month in child support and another $2,250 in alimony, which she no longer receives. Gary, meanwhile, didn't get the joint custody he wanted. He was allowed to see the boys Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4:00 to 7:30 p.m., and every other weekend.

No one was happy.

After the split, Suzy started sending the kids to see a therapist. Suzy wanted Gary to attend the sessions, but he refused, fearing the therapist would be "in the position of becoming an adverse witness" in future custody proceedings.

Suzy said the boys' relationship with their dad steadily deteriorated over the next few years. She said they regularly complained about visiting Gary, because, for instance, he'd make them sleep on the floor. And the boys also felt their new stepmother didn't like them and was mean -- both parents by now had remarried. Another gripe of the kids, Suzy told the court, was that Gary and his new wife, Karin, walked around the house nude.

Gary couldn't deny he had a bumpy relationship with his sons. Examples sadly abounded. When Garrett did a genealogy report showing his family tree for class, he listed his stepfather, Todd, as his father. And on the morning of Garrett's first Holy Communion, the boy called his dad and asked for him not to be a part of the ceremony, although he would allow Gary to watch. The mention of that phone call even now brings LaMusga to tears. "That hit me hard," he says.

Gary blamed his ex-wife for turning his sons against him, engaging in what shrinks refer to as "parental alienation." Gary wanted more time with his sons, but Suzy resisted, he said. He'd even begun volunteering as a teacher's aide in both of his sons' classes in order to spend more time with them. Gary's attorney later alleged that Suzy asked one teacher to log the hours her ex spent in the classroom so she could deduct it from his regular visitation hours.

Maureen Henry, the kindergarten teacher at Valley Christian, the private school Garrett attended, chimed in on Gary's behalf in court. She said that the first day back from Christmas vacation in 1999, Garrett told her, "My dad's mean. He yells all the time. He lies in court. He and my mom have been yelling at each other since I was two." The teacher asked Garrett how he knew his dad lied in court. According to the teacher, the boy said his mom told him so.

Suzy adamantly denies turning the boys against their father. If anything, she says, she'd given Gary more time with Garrett and Devlen than the court required. When Garrett had put Todd down as his father for his school report, Suzy says she lectured her son: "'Todd is not your father. Your dad is your father and you really should put his name in that space.'" She says she also scolded Garrett for excluding Gary from participating in his first Communion, and Gary, she claimed, had thanked her for her support. She also takes issue with the teacher's claim that she had tried to use Gary's volunteer time against him. "That was a bold-faced lie," Suzy now says. "The teacher lied and Gary lied."

Nearly five years after the LaMusgas split up for good, Suzy's new husband, Todd, got a job offer he couldn't pass up. A Toyota dealership in Cleveland was offering him a lot more money than he was making in Hayward to create and develop its Internet sales department. By now, Suzy figured Gary had had time to cement his relationship with his sons as the custody evaluator had recommended, and so she sought the court's permission to move to Ohio.

Gary, however, wasn't going to let his sons go without a fight. He feared he'd lose them forever if they moved cross-country. And, as far as he was concerned, she'd been responsible for his rocky relationship with the boys.


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