COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it, from the way we interact with each other to the ways our teachers educate children. One of the most contentious areas of law, family and custody law, has not gone untouched by COVID-19.
As one Florida mother discovered, family judges, who have an enormous amount of discretion in deciding child custody cases, also have insurmountable power as it pertains to COVID-19 restrictions via parenting plans.
As Melanie Joseph, who was living in Broward County Florida this fall discovered, parents and judges use their personal beliefs about COVID-19 to force parenting guidelines born out of unconstitutional measures.
In an audio file published by National Mail, Judge Dale C. Cohen of Broward County, Florida railed against people who don’t wear masks and then later suspended Joseph’s custodial rights of her fourteen year-old son Logan until she agreed to wear masks, make her son wear masks, and vaccinate when the COVID-19 vaccine is available.
Cohen actually mocks Joseph’s credibility in the entire seven year-long custody case because she’s “one of these anti-mask people.” He goes on to say that she has “the audacity” to post maskless photos on social media.
The judge is referring to Joseph’s picture of herself maskless in an oral surgery office, which she posted to Facebook in June of 2020. Florida did not have a mask order at the time, and there has never been a state-wide mask order in the state. However, Cohen felt that he knew best for Joseph and her son Logan.
In October, Judge Cohen also ordered that Joseph and her family receive the vaccine when it becomes available. He had no regard for Joseph’s beliefs about the vaccine’s efficacy; he simply ordered her to vaccinate her entire family because he sees that as the best health option for the Josephs.
Judge Cohen not only ordered that Logan, an asthmatic, wear a mask, but he also prescribed that the mask be 3-ply and lays out his demands for how the mask may only be washed and dried overnight while Logan wears another mask. It’s one of the largest overreaches of a family court judge on record; Cohen went full scale tyrannical on the Joseph family. Melanie Joseph told us she eventually signed the final agreement with Logan’s father via Judge Cohen’s orders because it was the only way she could see her son.
After National File published the audio file of Judge Cohen’s rant about mothers who don’t mask their children, other mothers came forward to complain that they had experienced similar injustices under Cohen’s rule. Cohen subsequently recused himself from Joseph’s case, but the injustices haven’t been made right yet.
As the Sentinel in Florida reports, child custody cases are becoming increasingly intertwined with parental rights. One parent may want strict COVID-19 measures, and the other believes in individual freedoms, including parenting rules. Judges must balance the two, but Cohen and dozens of others across the country who believe in strict COVID-19 measures have failed to do so and have often ordered parenting rules that are unconstitutional.
Judge Cohen also suspended rights for another mother whose child was seen at the beach without a mask. That case was later settled with a gag order.
Melanie Joseph, like most parents involved in child custody cases, has a lengthy story in her plight to regain custodial rights to her son Logan. She regularly updates her Facebook group, and a Gofundme account has been created to help with legal fees.
Melanie Joseph told us that she’s using this time to try to obtain a new judge and a new case. She’s hopeful that because of the publicity surrounding her case, she might eventually be able to parent Logan as she wishes, unrestricted.
No judge or government entity should be able to prescribe how an adult parents her child. Removing parental rights under the guise of “COVID-19 safety” deserves national attention. Melanie Joseph and her family deserve a new judge and a new case.
This egregious abuse of power not only should not, but cannot happen in the US.
If you have experienced a similar child custody issue with COVID-19 (only COVID-19 related), send us your story.