Dr. Phil says that this case reminds him of David Goldman, a former guest, whose international fight for custody of his son, Sean, made headlines.
Watch David’s story.
A Brazilian court has since rejected a bid to stop 9-year-old Sean Goldman from being reunited with his father, David, in New Jersey. The move brings David one step closer to bringing his son home.
Dr. Phil addresses Peter. “Do you want to raise your daughter? Do you want all the responsibilities, and burdens and everything that comes with raising her for the next 15, 20 years?” he asks.
“Yes, I do,” Peter replies.
[AD]”What’s your relationship with your daughter?”
“Right now, it’s not too good. Since her mom passed away, our conversations have been very short on the telephone,” Peter reveals. “It took me a while to get visitation rights to see my daughter. I finally saw her, and things are really good between us, but she’s very shy and very quiet, because I feel that somebody else is raising her, and she’s holding back at the same time. She always said she loved me, every time. The last three times I saw her, she didn’t say she loved me anymore.”
“Why do you think that is?” Dr. Phil probes.
“I have no idea,” Peter answers.
“I think Kate is in the process of being alienated from her father. It’s a real tragedy,” Mel observes. He turns to Deborah. “If you don’t understand how important it is now, when this girl has lost her mom, to be reunited with her dad, if you don’t know how important it is for her future, then I’m sorry, I don’t think you’re qualified to have custody.”
Deborah tells Dr. Phil that Peter was a guest in her home after her sister died. “Regardless of our feelings for each other, I always did what was best for Kate and for my sister. What happened that week, we never discussed anything except funeral arrangements for my sister. We didn’t discuss Katie, or anything like that. I said it wasn’t appropriate, at the time,” she explains.
Deborah’s attorney, Bob, sent in photos of Peter’s house that he claims are an unsuitable living environment for Kate.[AD]
Dr. Phil gesturing to photos of the backyard. “It’s like some kind of turf, and that’s like dog feces all over it, so that’s troublesome to you,” he says. Next, a series of photos appear showing clutter in the rooms. Turning to Deborah, he says. “So your point is, it’s unclean, but a house can be cleaned. Are you equating that to an unfit environment?”
“When my sister was alive, and when she was living in New Mexico, my sister always took care of the house, and it was impeccable,” Deborah replies. “Peter just lives like that. That’s the way it was when my sister and I took the two kids last year in June of 2008 to visit. He had two weeks of notice that we were coming.”
“I’m not a lawyer, but I did do a year’s post-doctoral training in forensic psychology, which largely focused on custody determinations. I’ve worked as an officer of a court. I have assisted in making these determinations. This ain’t my first rodeo,” Dr. Phil informs both parties.
He turns to Peter. “There is a presumption this child should be with you, unless you have some compromise of your ability to care for this child, or there is an exceptional circumstance, such as you have surrendered this child to a psychological parent and therefore, she would then only be on a parity with you, and it would go to a best-interest test,” Dr. Phil says.
“â€˜Psychological parent’ is a fiction created by only a few states in the country. The United States Supreme Court, basically, gives a fit parent an absolute right to parent his or her child,” Michael says.
[AD]”I don’t want to debate the law with a lawyer, because you would win,” Dr. Phil says. He directs his attention back to Peter. “Are you fit to take care of this child?” he asks.
“I am physically fit and mentally fit. I’m a law enforcement officer,” Peter replies. “I’ve been working for the Department of Corrections in the state of New Mexico for the past three years, and it’s been a very rewarding career.”
“You understand the challenges of raising this child, and that’s something you step up to willingly?” Dr. Phil probes.
“I’m willing to do it. More than willing. Willing, ready and able, and I want my daughter back. I would do anything for my daughter,” Peter says.
“Under normal circumstances, Peter would not be required to have been perfect in order to parent his child. These were not normal circumstances,” Mel chimes in. “His wife was 2,500 miles away, dying of cancer. Let’s have some compassion for what he’s going through. If the court takes his daughter away from him because he had a messy house, that would be a real disgrace.”
He turns to Deborah. “You said you were a psychological parent. I just want to ask you a question. If Peter wins custody ” he might, you never know ” are you prepared to pay him child support for Kate?” he asks.
“He hasn’t paid me a penny,” Deborah shoots back.
“You guys agree and acknowledge that there is a presumption of his right to have this child in his full and complete custody and to raise her, and that the burden is on y’all to prove that either he is unfit, or that there’s some circumstance that would override that,” Dr. Phil tells her.[AD]
“It’s a rebuttable presumption under the law in the state of New Jersey,” Deborah’s lawyer, Bob, says. “They set a four-prong test to designate her as the psychological parent, and we’ve met all four of those prongs. There is case law right on point, once we meet that burden, then it’s like she is the biological mother. It’s a best interest of the child. We submit that Deborah takes care of school, medical, dental, extracurricular activities ” everything the child needs.”
The parties bicker over Kate’s future.