May 5, 2010
Legal Battle Over Visitation with Mentally Incapacitated Mom
CNN reports the heartbreaking story of a father locked in a legal battle with his in-laws over the propriety of his triplets' visitation with their mentally incapacitated mother.
Abbie Dorn always wanted children, and in June 2006 she got her wish -- triplets. But during a difficult birth she suffered severe brain damage that took away her chance to raise them.
Now, her parents and former husband are locked in a legal battle over whether Dorn is capable of interacting with her children, and whether they should visit her.
On Tuesday, a judge in Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled that Abbie Dorn's parents have the right to fight for visitation rights on her behalf.
The ruling clears the way for a trial, scheduled for May 13. No matter who prevails, the case is likely to lead to years of appeals that could result in a legal landmark affecting the rights of mentally incapacitated parents.
Dorn, 34, last had contact with triplets Esti, Reuvi and Yossi in October 2007, when they were toddlers. They will turn 4 on June 20.
Paul and Susan Cohen, a physician and former nurse, are conservators of Abbie Dorn's estate and care for their daughter full-time at their home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A $7.8 million medical malpractice settlement funds her treatment.
Her former husband, Daniel Dorn, is raising the triplets in Los Angeles, California.
Susan Cohen says her daughter has made considerable progress after intensive rehabilitation and now communicates by blinking her eyes.
"One slow blink means 'yes.' No response means 'no,'" said Cohen.
With his wife's parents overseeing her medical care, Dan Dorn found himself a young father raising triplets. He believed Abbie's prospects of recovery were faint. One year to the day after the triplets were born, Dan notified the Cohens that he was ready to move on.
At Dan's request, the Cohens initiated divorce proceedings on Abbie's behalf. The divorce was finalized in the fall of 2008.
Dorn and the Cohens continue to disagree over whether or not Abbie is making progress in her treatment. They also cannot agree on whether she has the ability to interact with her children.
Dan Dorn maintains in his legal papers that it is not in his children's best interest to see their mother now.
Court battles like the one between Dorn and the Cohens are rare but not without precedent.
But there are key differences between these cases: Carney's case dealt with custody of a physically disabled parent, while the Dorns' involves visitation by a mentally incapacitated parent.
"There's no reason for the triplets not to have a relationship with their mother, whatever that relationship may be," said Lisa Helfend Meyer, the Cohens' attorney.
Dorn's attorney, Vicki J. Greene, responded that he "wants to be the one to parent the children and tell them at an appropriate age the proper details of their life. From our perspective, he gets to make the decisions. He's the father."
Dorn, who is seeking child support from Abbie's estate, stated in court documents that he has not told the children what happened to their mother because they are too young to understand. He says he will consider taking the children to see Abbie when they are older -- if he receives medical evidence that she will be able to communicate with them.
The Cohens argue that if the children are properly prepared for the situation, the experience will not be detrimental. They have requested that the children see a psychologist to help prepare them.
Read the full story here.
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