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Wed Jun 7, 2023, 03:16 PM

Remembering Catherine Kassenoff and Continuing the Fight for Fair U.S. Child Custody Outcomes

(absolutely heartbreaking, and beyond anger-making)

Remembering Catherine Kassenoff and Continuing the Fight for Fair U.S. Child Custody Outcomes
6/5/2023 by Amy Polacko
Why would a brilliant attorney and mother of three take her own life? Because the dysfunctional U.S. family court system took her kids and drove her—like so many others—over the edge.

“This is a story that ends with my own assisted death in Switzerland. Its lead up has been published for years on Facebook, in Ms. magazine and in other media. The New York Court system is responsible for this outcome and should be held accountable for ruining the lives of my children, me, and so many other similarly-situated protective parents (mostly mothers) who have tried to stand up against abuse but were labeled ‘liars,’ ‘mentally ill’ and then treated like criminals.”

—Catherine Kassenoff, May 27, 2023
Catherine Kassenoff said she chose assisted suicide in Switzerland rather than living with the “unbearable pain” of being unable to see her children during her divorce while terminally ill. (Courtesy of Catherine Kassenoff)

This was the message a Westchester County, N.Y., woman sent on Memorial Day Weekend to those who knew about the epic war she was fighting—to get her three daughters back in a years-long custody dispute with her husband. And, through the tears, most of us thought four things: I am devastated; sadly, I can understand how she reached this heartbreaking decision; our family court system did this; and we must fight for change before we lose more Catherines. Our courts repeatedly allow abusers to weaponize our legal system against women—making them the target of a war that can cost them, like Kassenoff, their health, jobs, money, homes, children and peace. No one should live this way in America—or anywhere. It’s an underworld only those who have been through family court, or know someone who has, can comprehend.

She wrote:

“I cannot survive this torment and the grief that comes from such a prolonged separation from my children. … This court system did this to me, as it does to countless other protective mothers (and fathers). Professor Joan Meier’s extensive research in this area confirms this is an epidemic. It is a predatory system that functions in darkness—through ‘gag’ orders like the one in my case, through a publicly-inaccessible docket, through a closed courtroom and through ex parte ‘temporary’ orders that are in place for years. Money is the goal, not helping families get through traumatic divorces. It must be investigated at large by the FBI or another federal law enforcement agency or it will continue to devastate our families.”

I first interviewed Catherine Kassenoff in December of 2021 for the groundbreaking Ms. article “Empty Home for the Holidays,” about how she and another protective mother, Cobie Jane, would spend the season without their children. Kassenoff was two and a half years into the battle with her husband, a litigator himself with Greenberg Traurig (now on a leave of absence), who she said took advantage of a dysfunctional judicial system after two of their daughters reported their father for physical abuse of one of them.

As Kassenoff wrote in her goodbye letter:

“Because the Courts of New York State are so invested in minimizing, suppressing and punishing valid claims of abuse, the Courts imposed ‘supervision’ on me for saying that the girls were telling the truth about their father’s abuse. This supervision, which came at a cost to me of $2500/week at its height, was at the suggestion of a court-appointed forensic evaluator named Marc Abrams. Abrams was removed from the Panel of Forensic Custody Evaluators on August 24, 2021.”

. . . . .

“I cannot survive this torment and the grief that comes from such a prolonged separation from my children,” wrote Kassenoff. (Courtesy of Catherine Kassenoff)

. . . . .
Kassenoff urged us to take up the war she never wanted and was no longer able to wage:

“Perhaps if I had not been re-diagnosed with cancer I could have lasted in this fight longer. But I do not have the strength to go forward. More importantly, I do not want to traumatize my children any longer in this court system …My children and I, along with thousands of other protective parents and their children, deserved better than this … If this could happen to me, it can happen to any woman, Don’t let it.“

Rest in power, Catherine Kassenoff.


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