Most scams, such as sub-prime mortgages and email scams, victimize adults. But custody scams victimize children. When government fails to protect children it throws open the doors to private contractors—lawyers and clinicians—who enrich themselves at the expense of children. (More about this child and the mother who tried to protect her appears below.)
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The law favors joint custody regardless of safety
Slain kids' mom tells of abusive marriage
Court papers detail alleged violence by children's father before their deaths
By LINDSAY WISE
Sept. 27, 2010, 8:02AM
Harris County Sheriff's Office
Mohammad Goher is accused of shooting his son and two daughters as they slept in his apartment.
Norma Martinez said her husband was drunk when he chased her into their daughter's bedroom in May 2006, threatening to shoot her if she didn't tell him the name of the man who asked her out.
"I told him no one had asked me out," Martinez said in an affidavit she later filed in support of a protection order against her husband, Mohammad Goher.
Goher handed her the gun and told her to shoot him, but Martinez took the bullets out instead, she said. He responded by pulling her hair and punching her on the arms and stomach, she added.
Goher was convicted of assault of a family member and placed on deferred adjudication.
The 47-year-old Harris County man now faces capital murder charges in the deaths of the couple's three children. He is accused of shooting son Saeed, 12, and daughters Saeedah, 14, and Aisha, 7, on Sept. 19 as they slept in his apartment.
Court documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle detail Martinez's allegations that her husband physically, emotionally and verbally abused her throughout their 15-year marriage. She said Goher "has thrown objects, broken things, spit at me, pulled my hair, pushed and shoved me, grabbed me, slapped me, and threatened me with a weapon." Several times, Martinez said, he'd threatened to kill himself and kill her, including incidents in July and August 2008, when Goher allegedly tried to strangle her and pointed a Chinese sword at her.
In September 2008, Goher accused her of having an affair with his friend, Martinez stated in the affidavit.
Goher "told me I had to clean his name, that I had to take his gun and go kill this man," Martinez said. She said Goher made her sit right next to him so he would know where she was at all times.
"When I walked away to use the restroom, I had to tell him where I was going," she said. "I left the house the next day."
About two months later, Goher took the children and refused to let her talk to them, Martinez said.
Threats to take children
Martinez described expletive-laced phone calls and voice mails between December 2008 and February 2009 in which Goher allegedly called her names, accused her of running off with drug dealers, threatened to shoot her, and told her she'd never see the children again.
"The children were supposed to be in Pakistan temporarily to study the Koran and then come back here, or we were going to go to Pakistan to live with them," Martinez said in the affidavit.
Martinez's divorce petition, dated Feb. 5, includes copies of correspondence between Martinez and her legal advocate and the State Department, begging authorities to help locate her children in Pakistan.
Martinez said she hadn't spoken to her children since November 2008. That month, officials from the U.S. Consulate in Karachi had conducted a welfare visit at her request to check on the children, who were living at an apartment with Goher's parents in the Garden West neighborhood of Karachi.
Consular officials sent Martinez a letter recounting the visit on Nov. 25, 2008. Officials had only been allowed to talk to the children for 15 to 20 minutes. They were living in a three-room apartment with 10 or 12 people in a lower-middle-class neighborhood. All three children were clean and well-dressed, but their grandmother maintained control of the conversation and did not allow photographs.
"The children were not communicating, especially the eldest," a consular official wrote in the letter to Martinez. "They sought the grandmother's approval before answering any questions."
Not long after the welfare check, Martinez said she received a phone call from her daughter from an unknown number. She said her daughter told her that she and her two siblings had been moved to another location.
"My daughter also asked me to come get her — I was very fearful to hear this," Martinez wrote in a letter to the State Department's Office of Children's Issues on Jan. 12.
"You previously informed me that my children were not considered missing because I had their location in Karachi, Pakistan - but they are now missing!" she wrote. "They have been missing for almost a year now."
Traveled to Pakistan
She asked officials to help her find her the children and requested that they be added to databases for missing children.
"I implore that your office move forward with my case," she wrote. "Every day of not knowing where my children are or how they are doing is devastating."
A desperate Martinez traveled to Pakistan with Bibi Khan, the president of An-Nisa Hope Center, a Harris County shelter and advocacy group for Muslim women.
"If you had seen the way she cried, and if you had seen the way she was begging to see her kids again, I think you, too, would have said, 'OK, I'm going to go to Pakistan to help her find her kids,'" Khan said.
Khan said she helped Martinez scour the area in Karachi where her husband's parents had been living, interviewing neighbors for clues.
"We had to go to each school to see if they were there," Khan said. "You can imagine how many schools there are in Karachi. The only lead we had was her husband's family made her older daughter wear the veil."
Martinez finally reunited with her children at her lawyer's office in Houston, after she filed for divorce from Goher in Harris County's 312th District Court. He brought them back to the U.S. in time for a hearing in March.
"She hadn't seen them in a long time so there were hugs and tears and joy that they were back together again," said Martinez's attorney, Sandra Peake. "They were very, emotional and they were very happy and they just started talking and hugging almost as if they weren't sure that that was mom."
Sought sole custody
In her petition for divorce, Martinez requested sole custody of the children and sought damages for expenses, mental suffering and anguish.
In his response to his wife's suit, Goher denied her "gratuitous and self-serving allegations" and rejected her request for sole custody. He said that Martinez had committed acts of violence against him and the children, and asked the court to order Martinez to pay his attorney's fees and costs.
After a March 9 court hearing, Martinez and Goher were given temporary orders for joint custody of the children. Goher and Martinez were prohibited from contacting each other, or removing the children from Harris County. The children's passports were confiscated. Goher was granted unsupervised visitation with the children every weekend. The rest of the time, the children lived with their mother at the An-Nisa Hope Center shelter.
"The presumption in family law is joint custody; you have to overcome that to deprive the father of his visitation rights," said Syed Izfar, the amicus attorney appointed to assist the court with issues related to the children. "The legal presumption is that children benefit from nurturing and care of both parents. In this case it didn't work out, that's true, but that's the presumption of the law."
Given visitation rights
After the court issued the temporary custody orders in March, Martinez's attorney did not oppose Goher's visitation rights, Izfar said.
Peake expected to request continued joint custody at a divorce mediation scheduled for Sept. 24.
In the absence of specific threats against the children, there was no reason to think Goher was anything but a loving father, Peake said. "I thought that (Martinez) would be more at risk than they were," she said.
"How would you know that he would shoot three kids in the head or however he shot them?" Peake said. "They've been going over there and they've been coming back and they're not bruised and the amicus doesn't seem to have any concerns."
The children never expressed any fear of their dad, Izfar said. "They did say that he was trying to pressure them into staying with him. ... I said, 'Do you want to go visit your dad, or do you want to stop visitation?' One and all said, 'No, we do want to go visit him.' "
"I don't know what happened," he said. "I wish I knew."
Goher's divorce attorney, Fel E. Tabangay, declined to comment without instructions from his client, who was listed in fair condition at Ben Taub General Hospital, where he is recovering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
An-Nisa Hope Center: 713-339-0803; annisahopecenter.com/
DAYA: Serving South Asian Families in Crisis: 713-981-7645; www.dayahouston.org/
Asians Against Domestic Abuse: 713-339-8300; www.aadainc.org/
Houston Area Women's Center: 800-799-SAFE (7233), www.hawc.org
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About the mother and child pictured at the top
She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court when it helps abusive parents to maintain control over their families after divorce. When she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.
About the Author and the Cause