Trisha Conlon marries John P. Cushing, Jr., in 1994 and has two kids. They divorce in 2004.
The following year, 2005, John P. re-marries his first wife, Kristine Cushing, who had shot their two daughters to death in a bout of temporary insanity in 1991.
In 2007, Trisha finds out her kids are being exposed to Kristine, and threatens to change the parenting plan. John says not to worry: Kristine moved out and will be seeking a divorce.
The divorce between John and Kristine is never finalized. In 2008, unbeknownst to Trisha, Kristine moves back in with John. For three years, from 2008-2011, the sons hide the fact that Kristine is living with John, even giving Kristine a phony name.
In 2011,Trisha sees a painting by Kristine on John’s wall dated 2010, and knows Kristine is back. Trisha immediately files a motion to modify the parenting plan.
Was John’s cohabitation — or resumed cohabitation — with Kristine a change in circumstances?
Commissioner Leonid Ponomarchuk of King County (Seattle, Washington) Superior Court denies Trisha’s motion to modify the parenting plan, finding no change in circumstances for the reason that John and Kristine had been living together for three years at the time of the July 2011 hearing.
The decision should be reversed on appeal for four reasons:
1. It seems to me that a woman who killed children in her home possesses a greater than random chance of doing so again, regardless of the fact that prior insanity was deemed “temporary” and a California court determined that Kristine posed no threat to herself or others. Courts have an inviolate parens patriae responsibility for protecting children that transcends the “change in circumstances” rule.
2. There definitely was a change in circumstances. The cohabitation of John and Kristine commenced after the court established John and Trisha’s parenting agreement in 2004, when they divorced. On that date, Kristine was not known to be living with John.
3. Even if John was already surreptitiously cohabiting with Kristine in 2004, Trisha cannot fairly be deemed to have consented to a fact that she was unaware of.
4. Between 2004 and 2011 Kristina moved out of John’s home and then moved back in. The departure was a change in circumstances, and so was the return.
[The Conlon custody decision appears in the New York Times of July 31, 2011.