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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Backing Gary's arguments were, among others, psychologists Sanford Braver and Richard Warshak, whose feminist critics deride them as fathers' rights advocates. Five years ago, Braver, a psych professor at Arizona State University, wrote a book called Divorced Dads: Shattering Myths. Warshak, a clinical psychologist in Dallas, is best known for his book The Custody Revolution, which challenges what he calls the "motherhood mystique" and champions the role of fathers.

Their brief in the LaMusga case was ostensibly impartial, but made hay of Braver's recent study involving 602 college students, 170 of whom "had relocated with one parent more than an hour's drive away from the other parent." The study concluded that kids did better when both of their parents lived in the same geographical area. "The outcomes included less hostility, inner turmoil, and divorce-related distress, and better reported global health, all of which predict lower risk of premature mortality," Braver and Warshak's brief stated. "The students who did not experience the relocation of a parent regarded their parents more favorably as sources of emotional support and role models."

The other faction was led by Dr. Judith Wallerstein, who first garnered fame -- and controversy -- with her 1989 book, Second Chances: Men, Women and Children After a Decade of Divorce. The book was initially championed by conservatives because of Wallerstein's conclusion that divorce harms children more than anyone ever imagined. She came to her conclusions after tracking 131 kids of divorce from childhood to adulthood. She has fallen out of favor with fathers' rights groups and academics in recent times for her advocacy on the behalf of children remaining with their custodial parents -- usually moms -- when they move.

In an interview, the researcher assails the Braver study as deeply flawed. The idea that two biological parents are better than one, she argues, doesn't work in a hostile divorce situation as in the LaMusgas' case; being close to parents at war with each other doesn't help the children. In such a contested case, she reasons, the most important thing for the kids is that they maintain continuity of care by staying with the primary custodial parent. "Divorce by itself is traumatic to children," Wallerstein says. To separate kids from their primary caretaker, as Judge Bruiniers' ruling would have done, only increases their trauma, she adds.

While the lobbyists and lawyers, the politicians and academics, argued over what was best for them, life moved on for Gary, Suzy, and their two sons. Not only did it move on, it moved away.

As everyone waited for the Supreme Court to do something, it seemed Suzy and Gary fought more than ever over their kids -- even calling the police on each other in May 2003 because of disagreements over who was supposed to have the boys on a given day.

In the first instance, Suzy had wanted Garrett and Devlen home the night before Mother's Day so they could have the whole day together. Gary tersely replied by fax that he'd return them on the morning of Mother's Day, as he said the judge had ordered. The day before, Gary took the boys to the Sports and Recreation Community Park in Pleasanton for their Little League baseball games. Afterward, according to Gary's court declaration, he was in the outfield picking up baseballs when Suzy came and whisked away the kids. He confronted her as she was backing out of her parking spot, saying he didn't want to "create a scene." The boys sat quietly in the backseat. Suzy rolled the passenger-side window halfway down so Gary could say something to them. "Boys," he asked them, according to his court filing, "can you get out of the car?" Suzy interrupted angrily and said, "I thought you were going to say goodbye," and drove away. Gary called police, who drove with him to Suzy's Pleasanton home. The Pleasanton cops told Gary they wouldn't "drag the children" out of the house, but would ask Suzy if she'd turn them over. Suzy refused, according to Gary.

Two weeks later police were involved in another episode about which Gary complained to the local court. He believed he had the boys through the Memorial Day weekend and didn't have to take them back to Suzy's house until Tuesday morning.

Suzy, however, said they should come home on Monday. Gary ignored her demand and took the boys to Marine World in Vallejo on Monday. Around noon while walking around the theme park, Gary got a call on his cell phone from a Pleasanton police officer, who told him that his ex-wife had accused him of violating a court order and wanted the kids returned to her. Gary denied any violation and the day passed without anyone being arrested.

But the boys were feeling stressed, too, especially Garrett. One day in class after an indoor recess, his teacher at Mohr Elementary took him out in the hallway after he'd thrown a fit. She asked him what was wrong. The ten-year-old boy reeled off a list of complaints, which the teacher included in a letter to Suzy. Garrett said that he wished things could be normal like when his mom and dad were still together; his dad always yelled at his brother and took their stepsister's side; all his counselors always said the same thing and no one ever believed him; and that he wanted to move with his mom but his dad wouldn't let him.

Meanwhile, the younger boy, Devlen, then eight, drew a picture -- which Suzy showed the court -- showing a dragon outside a castle surrounded by lava. Suzy said Devlen had told her the dragon was his dad and the lava represented his stepmother. They were guarding the castle where Devlen had been locked up.

By now, Suzy had given up on Ohio. Todd quit his job in Cleveland because of the situation at home and returned to the Bay Area, but they were renting a place in Pleasanton that Suzy's attorney describes as a dump. The couple kept looking for opportunities in more-affordable places. Eventually, another one came along: Todd was offered a job as fleet manager for a Toyota dealership near Phoenix. The Arizona job was even more lucrative than the Ohio one.


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