By Irene Weiser,
(Oconto Falls, WI) Recently, an Oconto County family court judge sentenced a mother to jail because she was unable to force her daughter to court mandated visitation with her abusive father. The daughter will be sent to foster care if she refuses to live with her father while the mother serves her sentence.
Circuit Judge David Miron sentenced Lorraine Tipton to 30 days in county jail for contempt of court, for her failure to follow the custody order requiring her daughter to live every other week with her father, Craig Hensberger.
“She’s terrified of going; she has night terrors and severe anxiety” says Tipton, who admits her daughter hasn’t visited with her father since August.
“I thought the court was supposed to look out for the best interests of the child, not the best interest of the father,” Tipton continued. “I thought once I got out of the abusive relationship everything would be fine. Instead, my abuser is continuing his abuse of me and my daughter with the help of the court.”
Over the course of their on and off 8 year relationship Hensberger was arrested three times for domestic violence and once for child abuse. Since their separation in 2005, Hensberger has been arrested twice for DWI, including once while the daughter was in the car.
Although the court has ordered Hensberger into alcohol treatment and ordered “absolute sobriety” when having visitation, the daughter claims he continues to drink to excess when she is visiting. The father told the court he had stopped drinking completely. The mother recently had a private investigator follow the father, who found that the father drank heavily on a night he was scheduled to have visitation. In court today the father admitted to his continued drinking; nonetheless the judge still sentenced the mother to jail.
Hensberger achieved his local 15 minutes of fame in Oconto in March of this year, when he forced his daughter to enter 3 different fishing contests using the same fi sh so that he could collect the money – a story covered widely by local news. While the local media angle related to his transportation of fi sh against DNR regulations, Ms. Tipton’s concerns were for the well-being of her daughter, who was being taught to lie, cheat and steal by her father. Since this incident, the daughter’s relationship with the father has deteriorated, Tipton claims.
Additionally, the father’s employment is irregular, his house is in foreclosure and he currently resides with his mother. The daughter claims she is forced to sleep on the fl oor in the living room or in the unfi nished basement since there is no bed or private space for her in the small 2 bedroom house.
“Sadly, this case typifies the problems we are seeing in Family Courts nationwide,” says Irene Weiser, executive director of StopFamily- Violence.org. “Family court judges are failing to recognize signs of abuse, and are placing children in harms way.
Even worse, instead of investigating the abuse allegations, they accuse the parent making the allegations of being vindictive and punish them for taking actions to protect their children. Often judges seem more concerned with maintaining the child’s relationship with the father than ensuring the child’s safety.”
StopFamilyViolence.org is a national activist organization that works to ensure safety, justice, accountability and healing for victims of family violence. Irene Weiser coordinates the Family Court Reform Coalition, a coalition of advocates, professionals and organizations formed in response to the national crisis in the custody court system, where all too often, judge’s order children to live with abusers and punish, silence, or jail the parent who tries to protect the children from harm.