The following information was researched and written by Angela McCauley. Angela is a tireless advocate of the men's rights movement.
"KHAWAM v. Wolfe, 84 A. 3d 558 - DC: Court of Appeals 201" - Decided February 6, 2014 August 14, 2014 at 3:42pm WHY WOMEN, AND FEMINISTS, ARE DANGEROUS "HAWAM v. Wolfe, 84 A. 3d 558 - DC: Court of Appe als
"KHAWAM v. Wolfe, 84 A. 3d 558 - DC: Court of Appeals 201"
N.O.W. Brief Filed November 20, 2013
Argued April 2, 2013.
Decided February 6, 2014
The brief (filed by N.O.W.) argues that such an extraordinary award may chill protective mothers from raising allegations of domestic violence in custody disputes for "fear of retaliation should their claims ultimately be found unproven."
Lori Alvino McGill and Kerry J. Dingle, Washington, DC, filed a brief on behalf of the National Organization for Women Foundation, et al., as amici curiae in support of appellant.
The Khawam case is one of thousands that NOW leaders have become familiar with over the years and is illustrative of the dysfunction of the family court system. Ten organizations joined with NOW Foundation in filing this brief:
The Battered Women's Justice Project - Domestic Abuse Intervention Program,
The Center for Judicial Excellence,
Child Justice, Inc.,
Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project,
Georgetown University Domestic Violence Law Clinic Director and Law Professor Deborah Epstein,
The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence,
Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence,
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,
Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance
Women's Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund.
"The brief supports reversal of an unprecedented award of $350,000 in attorneys' fees against a woman who accused her ex-husband of domestic violence. The brief argues that such an extraordinary award may chill protective mothers from raising allegations of domestic violence in custody disputes for fear of retaliation should their claims ultimately be found unproven.
"IX - In sum, we affirm the custody order, the initial visitation order, and the judgment of divorce; we vacate and remand the trial court's order denying Ms. Khawam's motion to modify the custody order; and we dismiss the appeal from the award of attorney's fees for lack of a final order.
N.O.W. has made many false claims about this case in an attempt to, as is typical of this organization, to incite hysteria about family courts giving custody to abusive fathers. However, I just spent a great deal of time reading the 13 pages of this appellate case where I took many notes and made many observations.
In reading this case, after my own 6 yearlong nightmare, I noticed many familiar patterns of behavior perpetrated by this mother against this father. I will highlight a few:
First observation I want to make is that this child is only 5-years-old, almost 6, and already has had to endure this all too familiar horrific experience, which is an epidemic.
After a bitter argument in early March 2009, Ms. Khawam left the marital home and went to Tampa, Florida, taking the child with her "against Mr. Wolfe's express objections."Mr. Wolfe repeatedly demanded that Ms. Khawam disclose her precise location and return with the child, but Ms. Khawam refused. Several weeks after Ms.Khawam left for Florida, Mr. Wolfe filed a complaint here in the District seeking custody of the child. Aware of the pending lawsuit in the District, but not yet served with process, Ms. Khawam filed a petition for divorce and custody of the child in Florida state court.
In early April 2009, the Superior Court issued an order granting Mr. Wolfe temporary sole custody of the child. That order was served on Ms. Khawam in Tampa, as was notice of the pending custody case in the District. "After receiving the notice", Ms.Khawam sought an ex parte temporary "stay-away" injunction against Mr. Wolfe in Florida, alleging that Mr. Wolfe had committed acts of child abuse and domestic violence. A Florida state court granted the requested temporary injunction and subsequently issued additional temporary injunctions. In June 2010, however, the Florida state court determined that it lacked jurisdiction over Ms. Khawam's divorce petition and domestic-violence petitions and therefore dismissed the petitions and the corresponding temporary injunctions.
THE FAMILIAR PATTERN OF MATERNAL BEHAVIOR
Taking the child from the father against his express objections
She repeatedly refused to disclose her location to him
After receiving the Court's notice that granted temporary sole custody to the father....now comes the convenient ex-parte hearings seeking temporary "stay-away" injunctions and alleging both domestic violence and child abuse.
The Courts granted those "temporary injunctions...and "subsequently issued additional temporary injunctions.
**This is the pattern that allows these mothers to achieve alienation from the fathers, but does not include all of their tactics.
II - We first address Ms. Khawam's contention that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction to issue the custody order. We conclude that the trial court correctly exercised jurisdiction.
A - In finding that the child had a significant connection to the District, the trial 564*564 court relied on the following: (1) the child was born in the District; (2) the child lived in the District for the first two-and-a-half months of his life; (3) the child received medical treatment in the District; (4) both of the child's parents had significant connections with the District; and (5) Mr. Wolfe continued to live and work in the District. Considering that the child was only five months old when Mr. Wolfe filed the custody suit, we conclude that the child had a significant connection to the District.
B. Ms. Khawam also challenges the trial court's ruling that substantial evidence concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships was available in the District. We uphold the trial court's ruling.
For the reasons we have explained, the trial court did not err in finding that substantial evidence concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships was available in the District.
III - Ms. Khawam raises several challenges to the trial court's rulings in connection with Ms. Khawam's allegation that Mr. Wolfe had committed acts of domestic violence. Specifically, Ms. Khawam argues that Judge Saddler unfairly prevented Ms. Khawam from presenting evidence on that issue, that Judge Kravitz erroneously deferred to Judge Saddler's determination of 567*567 that issue and demonstrated judicial bias, and that Judge Kravitz made several clearly erroneous factual findings in concluding that Ms. Khawam had failed to demonstrate that Mr. Wolfe had committed acts of domestic violence. We affirm.
A - After conducting a lengthy evidentiary hearing, Judge Saddler ruled that the District had jurisdiction over the custody matter and that the District was not an inconvenient forum. During that hearing, Ms. Khawam introduced evidence that Mr. Wolfe had engaged in acts of domestic violence. Mr. Wolfe denied having engaged in such acts and introduced other evidence in support of that denial. In concluding that the District was not an inconvenient forum, Judge Saddler discussed and ultimately discredited Ms. Khawam's allegations of domestic violence.
On appeal, Ms. Khawam contends that Judge Saddler denied her a fair opportunity to prove her claims of domestic violence, by substantially restricting Ms. Khawam's ability to introduce evidence on the issue and then resolving the issue on an incomplete record. We find no error.
It is true, as Ms. Khawam emphasizes, that at various points during the hearing Judge Saddler excluded evidence about domestic violence. We do not agree with Ms. Khawam, however, that Judge Saddler either flatly prohibited introduction of evidence of domestic violence or otherwise acted unfairly.
Finally, as already noted, it is undisputed that Judge Saddler admitted evidence of domestic violence at various points during the hearing. On this record, we conclude that Ms. Khawam has not established that Judge Saddler flatly precluded evidence of domestic violence or otherwise acted unfairly in her handling of such evidence during the hearing.
In sum, we find no error in Judge Saddler's finding that Ms. Khawam had not shown that Mr. Wolfe had committed acts of domestic violence. We therefore affirm Judge Saddler's conclusion that the District would not be an inconvenient forum.
B - Ms. Khawam also contends that Judge Kravitz erred in his handling of the issue of domestic violence in connection with the custody and visitation determinations. We conclude to the contrary.
In arguing that she should be granted custody of the child, Ms. Khawam contended that Mr. Wolfe had threatened and physically abused both her and the child. SeeD.C.Code § 16-914(a)(3)(F) (2012 Repl.) (trial court determining custody issue shall consider, among other things, "evidence of an intrafamily offense" as defined in D.C.Code § 16-1001(8) (2012 Repl.), which includes threats and assault against spouse or biological child). After conducting a lengthy evidentiary hearing, Judge Kravitz concluded that Ms. Khawam's allegations of domestic violence were "false." In support of that conclusion, Judge Kravitz relied upon seven considerations: (1) "Ms. Khawam made no contemporaneous or even near-contemporaneous reports of any of Mr. Wolfe's alleged criminal acts"; (2) Ms. Khawam's allegations expanded over time and were "so numerous, so extraordinary, and ... so distorted that they defy any common sense view of reality"; (3) no physical, scientific, or documentary evidence supported Ms. Khawam's allegations; (4) only one witness testified before Judge Kravitz to having seen Mr. Wolfe assault Ms. Khawam, and Judge Kravitz did not credit the testimony of that witness, Ms. Khawam's twin sister, whom Judge Kravitz found to be "patently biased and unbelievable"; (5) Ms. Khawam's claim that Mr. Wolfe had forced her to engage in non-consensual sexual relations was undermined by "romantic and sexually suggestive emails Ms. Khawam sent to Mr.Wolfe shortly after the incident"; (6) "every judicial officer who has presided over an adversarial proceeding at which Ms. Khawam's allegations of domestic violence have been addressed has found the evidence supporting the allegations deficient"; and (7) "Ms. Khawam's allegations of child abuse by Mr. Wolfe have been found similarly wanting by every child welfare agency that has investigated them."
Second, Ms. Khawam contends that Judge Kravitz showed judicial bias, by among other things prejudging the issue of domestic violence before hearing evidence on the issue. We see no basis for this contention
IV - Ms. Khawam argues that the custody order should be reversed because the trial court erroneously credited the testimony of Dr. Berman, the court-appointed custody evaluator, who testified that Ms. Khawam exhibited "poor logical thinking" and "a profoundly distorted view of Mr. Wolfe and of much of the world around her." Ms. Khawam contends that her expert, Dr. Prange, gave unrebutted testimony that Dr. Berman's psychological testing of Ms. Khawam was not consistent with standard scientific protocols and that Dr. Berman's methods for conducting the custody evaluation fell short of professional standards. We find no grounds for reversal.
Ms. Khawam contends that the custody order should be reversed because 571*571 the trial court's visitation order was "harsh" and afforded Ms. Khawam "extremely limited" visitation. More specifically, Ms. Khawam objects to the following restrictions: (1) visitation is limited to thirteen hours per week; (2) visitation must be supervised; (3) visitation must occur on Monday afternoon, Friday afternoon, and Saturday during the day; and (4) Ms. Khawam cannot take the child more than ten miles outside the District.
In determining parental visitation rights, the trial court must "foster and safeguard [the] child's best interests." Hamel v. Hamel, 489 A.2d 471, 475 (D.C. 1985) (internal quotation marks omitted; brackets in Hamel). Under D.C.Code § 16-914(a)(3), the trial court must consider seventeen factors in determining the best interest of the child, including the interaction of the child with each parent, the mental health of the parents, the capacity of the parents to communicate, and the parents' willingness to share custody. This court will reverse a trial court's ruling on the subject of visitation "only for a clear abuse of discretion." Maybin v. Stewart, 885 A.2d 284, 287 (D.C.2005). We find no clear abuse of discretion in the original visitation ruling.
In this case, after thoroughly considering each of the statutory factors and several additional factors (including Ms. Khawam's lack of honesty and integrity and her failure to obey court orders), the trial court concluded that it was in the child's best interest for Mr. Wolfe to be the child's sole legal and primary physical custodian.
We are satisfied that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by initially limiting Ms. Khawam's visitation to thirteen hours per week and requiring that visitation be supervised.
The trial court properly relied upon counsel's statement in crafting the original visitation order. Cf., e.g., Flax v. Schertler, 935 A.2d 1091, 1103 (D.C.2007) ("it is necessary for the orderly conduct of litigation that the trial court be able to rely on counsel's representations at important junctures of 572*572 litigation") (internal quotation marks omitted). As to the specific dates and times of visitation, the trial court explained in the initial custody order that the schedule was a temporary arrangement to accommodate the possibility that Ms. Khawam. We do not find the specific visitation schedule in the initial custody order, intended to be temporary, to be a clear abuse of discretion.
VI - We agree with Ms. Khawam on this point.
Under the circumstances, we conclude that the trial court was required either to conduct an evidentiary hearing or to explain with specificity why such a hearing was not required, despite the serious allegations raised by Ms. Khawam's motion to modify.
--evidentiary hearings are strongly encouraged where allegations are made of present endangerment to a child's health or emotional well being") (internal quotation marks omitted).
**Of interest here, it is critical to point out that isn't it interesting though, that "evidentiary hearings are not strongly encouraged when a MAN is accused of domestic violence, child abuse or abuse". As is stated above, based on this mother's allegations alone she was granted temporary injunction and subsequently issued additional injunctions. And, herein lies the problem with these cases, how they begin and how they often end. These temporary orders are granted initially, immediately and repeatedly to these women who make allegations without evidence, with a hearing and without witnesses.
VII - Khawam seeks reversal of the trial court's order awarding attorney's fees to Mr. Wolfe. We dismiss Ms. Khawam's.
The trial court awarded Mr.Wolfe $350,000 under the necessaries doctrine, but expressly declined to decide whether Mr. Wolfe was entitled to an award under the remaining two theories.
For an order to be final, "it must dispose of the whole case on its merits so that the court has nothing remaining to do but to execute the judgment or decree already rendered." McDiarmid, 594 A.2d at 81
This policy is reflected, for example, in the rule that an interim award of attorney's fees to a plaintiff as a prevailing party on some claims, where other claims remain pending, is not immediately appealable.").
But where the trial court resolves only one claimed basis for relief, and leaves open other claims for additional relief, the trial court's order will generally lack finality. See, e.g., Merrell Dow Pharm. v. Oxendine,593 A.2d 1023, 1026 (D.C.1991) ("because the judgment leaves plaintiff th[e] option of seeking additional damages, it cannot be viewed as final") (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted); Jones v. Jones, 869 So.2d 1120, 1123 (Ala.2003) ("An order is not final if it permits a party to return to court and prove more damages or if it leaves open the question of additional recovery.").
Feel free to correct me if I am wrong here, with my lack of a law degree, but it has now been 7 months since this decision was made, so unless I am mistaken, I am left to wonder "why is Terry O'Neill and the National Organization of Women *missing in action*" on this decision?
It seems that in Ms. O'Neill's original complaint about the award of $350,000 to the ex-husband as being unprecedented and that it may chill protective mothers from raising allegations of domestic violence in custody disputes for "fear of retaliation should their claims ultimately be found unproven", SHE HAS FAILED.
In fact, as is stated above ""because the judgment leaves plaintiff th[e] option of seeking additional damages, it cannot be viewed as final" - so not only was he awarded the $350,000 under the necessaries doctrine, but as the order is not final he is still open to seek additional damages.
So, in ending after reading all of this it appears that the only dysfunction in the family courts is in allowing these cases to get this far where children are subjected to as is explained within the case "This three-year-old boy has experienced extraordinary upheaval in his brief life, and he needs a chance to settle in to his new surroundings and routine with Mr. Wolfe here in the District of Columbia. It is not surprising, given all that has transpired, that the child might act up during transitions or visits with his mother."
As far as this claim made "The brief (filed by N.O.W.) argues that such an extraordinary award may chill protective mothers from raising allegations of domestic violence in custody disputes for "fear of retaliation should their claims ultimately be found unproven".
When you read this case in its entirety and develop an understanding of why this award was made, and why he is open to seek additional awards, you will see the "ADDITIONAL" insanity in this statement. It appears that Ms. Khawam made many false allegations of both domestic violence and child abuse and this was proven through evidentiary hearings, hence it is my hope that Mr. Khawan's award will in fact, "chill protective mothers from raising allegations of domestic violence in custody disputes for FEAR of retaliation should their claims ultimately be found unproven"
So, where are you, Terry O'Neill and N.O.W, on this decision? Why the silence? I want to hear your roar....I am, as it appears the courts got it right in this time, in this case.