Prior court proceedings have adjudicated the parties' rights in this case. Melissa will be in the custody of William Stern and have visitation with Mary Beth Whitehead Gould. The sole purpose of this proceeding is to define the visitation, taking into consideration the particular circumstances of Melissa, her parents, stepparents, and extended families. The court finds that Melissa's best interests will be served by unsupervised, uninterrupted, liberal visitation with her mother.
The initial supervised visitation order was entered by the court after Mary Beth Whitehead Gould had fled New Jersey with her baby and threatened the baby's life. Family and financial crises engulfed her marriage, and she was under the stress of having lost custody of her newborn baby. Since that time her marital problems have been resolved through divorce; she has attained family stability with her new husband, and has come to the realization that she will never have custody of Melissa, who will be raised by her father and stepmother. The court finds, and the parties and their expert witnesses agree, there is no present evidence of any risk that Mary Beth Whitehead Gould will again flee with Melissa or cause her any physical harm.
Mary Beth Whitehead Gould had custody of Melissa and nurtured her for four months after her birth. Thereafter, she has seen Melissa on a regular, periodic basis until the present
time. They have a warm and loving relationship, interact well and appropriately, and stay engaged with each other over two-hour periods under restrictive and confining circumstances.
Melissa has no problems separating from her father or stepmother when brought to visitation, no separation anxiety during the two hours she is left with her mother, and no adverse reactions to visitation after she has returned to her father and stepmother. The court finds no credible evidence or expert opinion that Melissa will suffer any psychological or emotional harm by continued and expanded visitation with her mother.
William and Elizabeth Stern offered no evidence to support their fears that Melissa's continued relationship with her mother will somehow adversely affect her development or jeopardize their parent-child relationship. Their expert witness offered no clinical studies or personal observations of children under his care in similar circumstances to support his opinion that there should be no visitation until Melissa expresses a desire to meet her mother or until she is 12 years old. Neither the Sterns nor their expert seemed able to comprehend this is no longer a termination of parental rights or adoption case and it no longer matters how Melissa was legally conceived. She and her mother have the right to develop their own special relationship.
William and Elizabeth Stern are extraordinarily good parents who are devoting themselves to the nurturing and development of their daughter and their daughter is firmly bonded to them. Melissa is a resilient child who is no less capable than thousands of children of broken marriages who successfully adjust to complex family relationships when their parents remarry.
Melissa's adjustment and the quality of her relationships with her parents and step-parents will depend largely on how well they accept and adjust to their respective roles. Mary Beth Whitehead Gould must accept and understand that Melissa is ...