When Connecticut Inside Investigator (CII) spoke with Mia Ambrose (16), she was in hiding in Rhode Island with her two brothers, Matthew (16) and Sawyer (13) at their maternal grandfather’s house. 

In August they all fled the state of Connecticut following a ruling by a family court judge that gave their father, Christopher Ambrose, full legal authority over them, despite all three children having filed complaints against him in juvenile court alleging abuse and neglect over the three years they had been forced to live with him and completely separated from their mother, Karen Riordan.

“It got like, over the three years we were trapped there basically,” Mia said. “It was a really horrible experience for all of us, and I think it got to a really bad point. I was really tired of it, and I thought if I didn’t get out now I never would, so I left and then my brothers followed me shortly after.”

It wasn’t the first time Mia had run away from her father’s home. She fled and found her mother when Riordan was living in Killingworth. Riordan contacted police to let them know where Mia was, resulting in several hours of back and forth between Mia, Riordan and the police who arrived at Riordan’s residence. Mia was eventually forced by police to return to her father’s house.

This time, Mia ran away from her father’s home in April of 2023 and went to her mother’s home in Guilford where she claimed safe harbor. Her brother Matthew followed a month later and then Sawyer in July and they stayed with Riordan until the court filing sent the children running to Rhode Island and Riordan to New York, threatened with possible jail time for contempt of court because she harbored her children who had shown up, unannounced, at her door.

It had been roughly three years since they’d seen Riordan – a former special education teacher in the Greenwich school system who had left her job to become a full-time mother when she and her former husband adopted Mia, Matthew and then, several years later, Sawyer at birth. 

Ambrose, a screen writer for hit television shows like Law & Order and Bones, spent much of his time working in either California or New York City, coming home on weekends to be with his family, but Riordan by necessity had been the primary caretaker over those years the children grew up.

Riordan’s marriage to Ambrose in 2004 started off rocky, with Ambrose announcing he would return to California for work. She followed for a time, but when they decided to adopt, Riordan insisted on moving back to the East Coast, uncomfortable with California and the distance from her family. Ambrose agreed, but continued to work in California, necessitating cross-country flights on weekends and, after a time, working in New York City where, he claims in court documents, opportunities for screen-writing work were few and far between.

Despite the nice house and three children, the image of a happy family and happy marriage, Riordan said over the course of two interviews with CII that she and Ambrose were essentially roommates: she says the marriage was never consummated in 17 years and she was basically alone most of the time. She first raised the idea of divorce in 2015 but held on a while longer. 

But in 2018, she says she decided it was enough, not wanting to live like this any longer, she again pushed for a divorce. Ambrose, who is also an attorney educated at the New York University School of Law, beat her to the punch, however, retaining an attorney and filing first in 2019.

Riordan also retained an attorney – the first of many – and although the case first appeared to be going along normally, there were early signs of trouble. Riordan claims that she was locked out of their finances by Ambrose, who handled all the family’s financial matters. She says that he stalked her and harassed her leading up to and during the divorce. She says he warned her, that if they divorced, he would take the kids – and that is precisely what happened, despite the children constantly affirming their desire to be with their mother.

Riordan was initially awarded primary residence with the children with Ambrose having visitation on Wednesdays and every other weekend. But that all changed in April of 2020.

Mia, Matthew and Sawyer were becoming more and more hesitant to visit with their father, particularly overnights, according to Riordan and court documents. It was becoming more and more difficult to make them go for their scheduled visitation. 

This caused Jocelyn Hurwitz, the guardian ad litem (GAL), which is an attorney appointed by the family court to represent the best interest of the children, to call for an emergency hearing, alleging that Riordan was estranging the children from their father — essentially, engaging in parental alienation, turning the kids’ minds to reject their father.

“While this case has been pending, the children have become estranged from their father, and that estrangement has gotten progressively worse as the case has continued,” Hurwitz wrote in an April 14, 2020 affidavit. “The undersigned believes, based on all the information available at this point, that the children are at immediate risk of psychological harm.”

Parental alienation is an idea that has taken hold in family court systems across the country and internationally, which basically asserts that a child’s unwillingness to visit or connect with one parent during a divorce proceeding is caused by the other parent poisoning their mind against that parent. It can involve accusations of physical, psychological and sexual abuse against that parent, all controlled by the alienating parent.

But that idea is also under heavy scrutiny in both the United States and internationally, as groups of parents, particularly mothers, and researchers have raised the alarm over parental alienation, arguing that it is essentially awarding custody of children to abusive parents. The United Nations recently heard a report that found the use of parental alienation by the court system has endangered the lives of both children and mothers.

In Riordan’s case, the children wanting to be with her and their stated discomfort with their father was proof enough for the family court system to act, despite Riordan saying she never tried to turn them away from Ambrose and actively encouraged them to have a relationship with him. Still, the kids weren’t comfortable and that landed on Riordan, according to the GAL and custody evaluator Jessica Biren-Caverly, a psychologist and court-appointed custody evaluator.

“We didn’t really have a relationship; we never really did,” Mia said of her father. “He was always at work or working downstairs in his office and we had no relationship at all. That was why it was really hard when the divorce was happening and we had to visit him and stuff because we didn’t have that kind of relationship, and it was hard to connect to someone that like you know, you don’t have a relationship with.”

Mia, likewise, denies that Riordan ever tried to turn the kids against their father.

“If anything, she was pressuring us to go visit him when we didn’t want to because she wanted us to have a relationship with him,” Mia continued. “And then, like, a lot of stuff was starting to happen with him and us and so we were very much avoidant to go into his house.”

Some of that “stuff” with Ambrose, according to Mia, includes accusations of mental, emotional and, at times, sexual abuse by Ambrose – claims which have repeatedly been investigated by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the police, and all of which have been found to be unsubstantiated. The children continued to maintain that this is happening, writing letters to the court, speaking with investigators and finally running away and filing in Juvenile Court three years later.

The family court reversed its initial order regarding primary residence and visitation in April of 2020, awarding Ambrose sole custody of all three children and effectively barring Riordan from seeing her children for the next three years until all three of them fled their father’s home in spring and summer of 2023.

Riordan’s chaotic case in Connecticut’s family court system has become a bit of a cause célèbre among family court activists intent on seeing the family court system reformed. Her case has seen multiple judges, multiple attorneys, accusations of abuse, lawsuits filed against third parties, the disbarment of an attorney, dozens of incendiary writings published online, a documentary filmmaker and reporters showing up at not only Ambrose’s door but also at the offices of the court appointed custody evaluator.

But what happened next, in August of 2023, has family court activists, experts in coercive control and proponents of Jennifers’ Law in Connecticut – a 2021 law that expanded the definition of domestic violence and its applicability in family court – up in arms.

Through his attorney — Alexander Cuda — Ambrose filed for legal authority over Mia, Matthew and Sawyer and then filed a one-year restraining order on their behalf against Riordan. Ambrose then pursued contempt of court charges against her for failing to return the children to him under the threat of jail time. 

Although the initial filing was rejected, Ambrose filed a second time with a different judge and won his case, effectively barring Riordan from seeing her kids for another year under threat of violating a restraining order, and used Jennifers’ Law to do it. Effectively arguing that Riordan had coercively controlled her children – an act of domestic violence under Jennifer’s Law – into making allegations against their father and to run away.

That is when the children left to be with their maternal grandfather in Rhode Island. DCF, the police and Ambrose all knew where they were (they have since changed locations) and that they are safe, but the same people who pushed for Jennifers’ Law to be enacted say this successful court filing has turned the law on its head, setting a precedent that could become problematic in the future.

Jennifers’ Law was passed in 2021, named after Jennifer Dulos who disappeared and is presumed murdered by her husband Fotis Dulos during a divorce and custody case that captured headlines across the country, and Jennifer Magnano who was murdered by her estranged husband. Those high-profile deaths spurred passage of the law, which expanded the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control.

Coercive control is essentially the controlling of one partner by means other than physical violence such as financial control, threatening, harassment, intimidation – all things that could create a psychologically and emotionally abusive environment inside a home but without the physical violence often needed to secure a restraining order. Jennifer Dulos was denied a restraining order against her husband precisely because he had never been documented to have physically assaulted her.

Although women’s rights activists and some family court reformers upheld passage of the law to be a victory, uptake by the family court system has been slow, and the court’s finding in Riordan’s case, they say, has effectively used and twisted the law to do the opposite of what was intended.

“Alexander Cuda stepped into family court for two days and managed to exploit Jennifers’ Law,” wrote Jill Rosenfeld in a blog post for CT Protective Moms, a website run by Betsy Keller who helped push for Jennifers’ Law in 2021. “He distorted and twisted its intended purpose to attack an allegedly innocent mother and blame her for the coercive control of her own children – children she had no visitation or access to.”

“I would say this is what happens when laws are passed. There are the best of intentions and this law is intended to protect victims and survivors, but we always know that when you put out a law like this there’s a chance that a perpetrator is going to flip the narrative,” said Dr. Christine Cocchiola, DSW, LCSW and an expert in coercive control. “It really feels to me like his lawyers knew very well the law and they chose to flip the narrative on Karen to say that she was the perpetrator, she was doing this harm, she was coercing the children, when the reality is we have three years of those children not being given any access to their mother.”

In court filings across several cases, not only the divorce and custody proceedings, Ambrose alleged that Riordan has been secretly communicating with her children in order to assert this coercive control and the court agreed– an allegation for which there has yet to be any clear evidence presented and is denied by both Riordan and her daughter Mia. Although, it was determined in court that Riordan had communicated with her children through third parties at different times throughout the years of the custody battle.

“No, I didn’t have contact with her, and it was really, really hard,” Mia said. “It makes me feel bad that he’s saying she’s telling me what to say, like I don’t have my own mind at sixteen, but she’s not telling me what to say.”

Cocchiola says this case is a prime example of D.A.R.V.O – an acronym that has become popular among domestic abuse survivors and women’s rights advocates which stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. Essentially, Cocchiola says, Ambrose and the court system managed to flip the script on who was the victim and who was the offender in this case. 

The children have made multiple allegations against their father and have run to the mother for safety and that, in turn, has made her the offender – first for parental alienation which resulted in losing custody and contact with her children, and secondly, now, as a coercive controller being threatened with jail time for contempt of court.

“There is no doubt in my mind that these attorneys researched what the law said and figured they could use this law against her,” Cocchiola said. “It’s such a clear-cut case of DARVO in the world that I live in.”

Elle Kamihira is a podcast host and writer and director of the film Jennifer 42, an animated documentary that examined the story of Jennifer Magnano after she was forced to return to Connecticut with her children by the family court system, only to be murdered by her estranged husband who had allegedly been coercively controlling the family for years and subjecting Magnano to physical abuse, as well. The film is narrated by Magnano’s children. 

Kamihira says Magnano’s case sparked her push for Jennifers’ Law in Connecticut, helping to campaign for passage as well as aiding in the drafting of the law alongside then Sen. Alexandra Kasser, D-Greenwich. When she became aware of Riordan’s case in 2020, she began following it intensely, attending court hearings alongside Riordan.

But Kamihira says Jennifers’ Law as it exists now, is not what was originally envisioned, leading to the opportunity for it to be used in an unintended way.

“There was a moment in the drafting of the law when our wish was Jennifers’ Law to go into the criminal code,” Kamihira said in an interview. “In other words, a very detailed, very comprehensive law would go into the criminal code so that victims of coercive control and domestic abuse – because those two things go hand-in-hand — would have legal tools by which they could have presented evidence, had testimony, etc. and their coercive controllers, domestic abusers could be charged with criminal conduct.”

However, Kamihira says the opposition to making it part of the criminal code was “immense,” and therefore it became a matter for civil court and the family court system, a system that is based on the discretion of a judge.

“We believed that getting coercive control laws on the books in family court and in criminal court was a really important tool for victims of abuse,” Kamihira said. “To have Jennifers’ Law and coercive control essentially waved about to make coercive control sound like some kind of witchcraft with no evidence, not really a citation of any particular behaviors, actually. But they’re essentially saying because the children sought legal redress against their allegedly abusive father, her association with them somehow is how she coercively controlled them. There’s nothing about that scenario that has anything to do with coercive control, that’s not how coercive control works.”

Attorney Cuda did not respond to requests for comment.

Kamihira’s take on Jennifer’s Law being relegated to civil and family courts is echoed by Peter Szymonik, a family court activist and friend of Riordan’s who opposed the passage of Jennifers’ Law because it would give wider discretion to family court, potentially turning a civil matter into a criminal matter.

“One of the biggest problems we have in our family court system, if you take a step back and look at how the whole system operates, is its all based on a concept called wide discretion, which basically means you’re putting a lot of faith in the judge to make a proper decision,” Szymonik said. “There’s no one who oversees these judges, no one who is watching what they’re doing, and judges make mistakes and one of the problems is when they make mistakes, they’ll never admit it.”

“So, what happens is the family court system is using laws like Jennifers’ Law saying you’re now crossing the line from a civil situation into a criminal situation, and they do that to intimidate and harass parents to stop complaining about the court taking the children away,” Syzmonik continued. “What’s happening here is the family court system is preventing her from having any access to her children yet holding her accountable for the fact that the children aren’t going back to their father. It’s ridiculous. They’re undermining her parental authority and threatening to jail her for not being able to force her children to go back to their dad.”

There doesn’t appear to be anything stopping Ambrose from going to pick up his kids other than their refusal to go; not when they stayed with Riordan in the months leading up to the restraining order Ambrose filed on the children’s behalf, or when they were in Rhode Island. According to Riordan and others familiar with the case, the kids’ grandfather was not preventing Ambrose from seeing them or taking custody of them. Mia says she doesn’t want to go with her father, and says her siblings feel the same.

“Why are you dragging Karen to court, threatening her with prison?” Syzmonik said. “What he’s trying to do is make the state threaten and harass her to bring the kids back to him. She has no parental authority whatsoever, he does, he had total custody, go get them.”

“You would think after three years you would have a really strong bond, strong family relations between the kids and the dad. So, why did they run away?” Kamihira said. “These are strong willed kids. They have absolute minds of their own. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Riordan claims she was ill-served by a number of attorney’s who have represented her throughout the divorce and custody hearings, including not informing her on the selection of a GAL and custody evaluator, who eventually oversaw the removal of her kids and recommended the judge give custody to Ambrose. According to Riordan, talks between attorneys took place behind the scenes, leaving her out of the loop and shocked when she set foot in the courtroom and orders were handed down.

 “Everybody in the room knew what was happening except for me,” Riordan said. “I hear nothing from my attorney and then I get a letter in the mail awarding Chris sole custody of the kids based on his affidavit that wasn’t even tested in court. I was like what is going on here? I lose custody of my three children?”

She says she was warned repeatedly not to bring up her children’s abuse claims by her own lawyers who said it would just reinforce the parental alienation claim made by Ambrose and she would lose custody of Mia, Matthew and Sawyer. 

“I was forbidden to go to the police or DCF, that was part of the thing they put in too. So, if I had concerns what was I supposed to do? My hands were tied,” Riordan said. “My attorney said I better not go for a restraining order, or they’ll take the kids. Any time I wanted to pursue something, the threat was they’re going to take your kids, parental alienation. But then at the same point, my kids were scared, I had no counselors to bring them to. I just felt like it was getting worse and worse.”

Her attorney only gave a small response to the custody evaluator’s recommendation and Ambrose received full custody in April of 2020. “All the concerns I had never got brought before the court, never,” Riordan said. “I never got to speak, we never got to cross examine the affidavits that [GAL Hurwitz] put in to back Chris. To this day I haven’t gotten to cross examine it.”

Under the 2020 custody order, Riordan was to cease all communication with the kids instantly, not even able to respond to their text messages. “It’s state-sponsored child abuse,” Riordan said. “When you tell a parent not to respond to the cries of your children, ignore your children, that is the legal definition of child abuse, so that’s what I was forced to do to my kids.”

Following the loss of custody, her attorneys, one after the other, kept telling her to “jump through hoops” set by the GAL. She was allowed a supervised phone call with the kids and given a script: she was to apologize to the children and tell them to be nice to their father. She jumped through that hoop. 

Riordan was then offered visits with the kids under the supervision of someone selected by the GAL, after Ambrose rejected the “thirty or forty” people she offered up to supervise. However, when she was presented with the supervision contract, including a $7,500 retainer paid by Ambrose, she refused. For one, she says, there was no court hearing regarding supervised visits; this was all being done post-judgement. Secondly, under the terms of the contract, when the money ran out, so did the visits and the reports would be given directly to the GAL and the judge.

“There was nothing saying why I needed supervised visitation, what the purpose of supervised visitation was, what the duration of supervised visitation was, what the qualifications were, nothing,” Riordan said. “It was like handing over every right I could possibly have and giving them every ticket to use against me and my kids.”

Her last attorney, Nikola Cunha, at least appeared willing to fight for Riordan during the trial, but there were early signs of trouble. Riordan wrote to Cunha that she was creating more problems, according to a July 2021 email. “Your conduct is highly unprofessional and has done further damage to my case over 11 months,” Riordan wrote. “At this point however, it is more dangerous to move forward with you as counsel, because you are clearly sabotaging my case.”

Riordan wouldn’t have to fire Cunha, however. During a November 2021 status conference Cunha accused Judge Gerard Adelman of bias toward Ambrose’s attorney, the GAL and the court-appointed psychologist because they were all Jewish. Those comments, without evidence, saw her disbarred by Judge Thomas Moukawsher. Cunha’s disbarment made headlines across the state.

“Karen had sort of one lawyer after the next; between incompetence and collusion, it’s hard to speak on that. What is clear is that Christopher Ambrose with his expensive, competent lawyer and a GAL that was favorable to him, a custody evaluator that was favorable to him, a team that he had assembled and paid for,” Kamihira said. “What is clear I think in the trial is that he got to put on a case, and she never spoke, and so much evidence was not shown, so much evidence was blocked, so much was not heard, not included. It was a mix of unfortunate coercive events and Karen less and less able to hold up under this immense pressure, there are many factors there as to why the trial went so south for her.”

Some of that evidence allegedly not shown in court pertained to Riordan’s fitness as a mother. According to the custody evaluator, Riordan had some form of personality disorder — Adelman’s decision alluded to Borderline Personality Disorder — that made her unfit to co-parent with Ambrose. Riordan, however, has multiple letters from therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists she has worked with over the years attesting to her mental stability and fitness as a parent.

And while she claims she was never given the opportunity to present these in her trial, she has included them in a massive filing she made to the court regarding this most recent motion to hold her in contempt.

Tami M. Amiri, MD, a psychiatrist who had been working with Riordan, wrote a letter to the court saying, “there is much amiss with regard to court evaluations of her and the treatment and decisions regarding her children.”

“As I have told several people involved in the case, at no time under my care, did I have any concerns about her mental stability or in particular her ability to care for her children,” Amiri wrote. “My office has never heard from the GAL Jocelyn Hurwitz, which is most interesting given the concerns over Karen’s perceived abilities or lack thereof with regard to the safety of the children. In fact, I fear that Karen is being vilified in her role of the mother, and I hope the same scrutiny is being given to the children’s father since I fear that they are frightened of him and do not feel safe in his care.”

Similarly, Margaret R. Coffey, MD, wrote in a separate letter, “It is my professional medical opinion that Ms. Riordan is not mentally ill. Furthermore, she does not meet the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for any Major Personality Disorders.”

Another letter from Dr. Bandy Lee, a high-profile former Yale psychiatrist and professor, who had worked with Riordan and had the chance to interview the children when they ran away and see their letters and statements, wrote, “This is not a difficult case. I can state by a preponderance of the evidence, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that Ms. Riordan is more than a competent mother. If it is their desire to do so, the children should be allowed to stay with her.”

An affidavit signed by Mia in May of 2023 reiterated her claims of emotional, psychological and sexual abuse, said that she and her brothers were using drugs and alcohol under his care and that she did not feel safe with him – all of which were repeated to CII during the interview.

Desperate and out of money, Riordan, like many other women trapped in high-conflict divorce cases, began to represent herself, but to no avail; her motions were repeatedly denied, her evidence was not allowed, and commentary from judges issuing their orders was scathing. The court had determined that Riordan was causing the children severe psychological trauma by turning them against their father, and Riordan’s lack of legal acumen worked against her as she was similarly castigated for making numerous court filings on her own behalf.

“There have been several determinations of coaching by the defendant or Mia telling the children what to say at the direction of the defendant,” Adelman wrote in his decision, adding that specific testimony by Madison Police Detective William DeGoursey said Mia’s allegations were not credible, along with DCF and hospital staff testimony that questioned the validity of the abuse allegations.

Judge Adelman wrote in his April 2022 decision that Riordan’s behavior “has been nothing short of horrendous,” writing that she refused court orders to work toward being restored as a parent, coached the children on what to say, allegedly covertly communicated with them, communicated with them via third parties, called the police numerous times to report abuse by Ambrose and made numerous duplicative and irrelevant filings.

Cocchiola believes this is a case of “institutional DARVO,” arguing that, according to studies, less than two percent of mothers lie about abuse at the hands of their children’s father and points to the children running away and returning to Riordan as evidence. “What statement do we need from these children besides their actions that show very clearly that they wanted to be with their mother?” Cocchiola asked.

But there were other factors affecting Adelman’s decision, as well, factors that have now led to lawsuits against writers on internet websites that posted information about the case and the children, and lobbed accusations against Ambrose in multiple forums.

“The respondent has caused them harm by making them pawns in her marital dispute with the applicant and exposing them to the most private family matters and private psychological information on the internet without any thought as to the best interests of the three minor children,” Adelman wrote in his decision.

As indicated before, Riordan’s case has become a well-followed cause for family court reform activists. Much of their knowledge on the case came from the Frank Report, an online blog authored in large part by Frank Parlato, an enigmatic figure and writer who rose to prominence after he began reporting on the NXIVM Cult, where he had worked as a publicist for a year. His writings eventually fueled an investigation into the now widely known cult.

Parlato began reporting on Riordan’s case in 2021, posting upwards of 100 articles to date and posting information, photos and reports that could only have come from someone closely associated with the ongoing custody dispute – allegedly Riordan, herself. The articles are written in a style that can only be described as incendiary, making the case that Ambrose was a child molester and viewed child pornography, among many other accusations, all of which Ambrose denies and none of which have been sustained by investigators.

Riordan’s case is not the only Connecticut family court case to make the pages of the Frank Report, but it certainly has occupied a lot of space there and has grown in popularity among those who see Connecticut’s family courts as a system thriving on corruption, collusion and lots of money.

The extensive and vitriolic articles posted to Parlato’s website, however, eventually led to a lawsuit by Ambrose, claiming that the articles were not only damaging to the children who had seen them, but were hurting his chances of getting and retaining work. A simple Google search of Ambrose’s name brought up many allegations that would likely turn a potential employer away and this was referenced in Adelman’s decision.

Having a law degree himself, Ambrose filed a lawsuit against Parlato in Connecticut Superior Court, alleging that Parlato had lied in order to defame him, invaded his privacy and the privacy of his children and disregarded the facts and findings of the court. Ambrose drew the comparison between the articles published on Frank Report and the opinion piece written by actress Amber Heard in the Washington Post that resulted in a lawsuit by her former husband and actor, Johnny Depp.

Ambrose’s lawsuit requests monetary damages, that Parlato cease writing and publishing information about the case, and issue a retraction and apology, according to the July 2022 filing in Connecticut court. Parlato has since continued to write about the case and the lawsuit has been remanded to federal court. Ambrose alleges a romantic relationship between Parlato and Riordan in court documents and points out that Parlato was under investigation by the federal government on numerous tax charges. Parlato was recently convicted for one count of willful failure to file tax a return. He was fined $10,000 and sentenced to five months of home confinement.

Ambrose also filed a lawsuit in Connecticut court against Michelle Pawlina, a former friend of the family who remains close to Riordan, for comments she made during an interview posted to the Frank Report, in which she made similar allegations against Ambrose. His case against Pawlina, however, was eventually dismissed with prejudice as Ambrose had not filed a revised complaint.

A number of the articles published on the Frank Report – and many others – were also published on the blog Family Court Circus, which Ambrose labeled “a virulently anti-Semitic and racist site which has published 150 other defamatory articles against the Plaintiff and nearly everyone else associated with his divorce case,” in his filings against Parlato and Pawlina. 

Family Court Circus was run by Paul Boyne. Riordan admitted communicating with Boyne — who was also aggrieved about his experience in family court — but denied having any kind of relationship with him and disavowed him, according to Adelman’s decision. Furthermore, according to the July 2021 email from Riordan to Cunha, it was Cunha who got on the phone with Boyne against Riordan’s wishes.

Boyne was recently arrested for stalking and cyberstalking three Connecticut judges from his home in Virginia following a Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice investigation into the website. Adelman referenced Boyne directly in his decision, indicating that these outside parties were harassing court officials and the blame landing squarely on Riordan.

There was also a video produced by Dolcefino Consulting, a Houston-based “investigative media consulting firm, hired by companies, law firms, private citizens and taxpayers to expose injustice, fraud, and abuse of power,” according to their website. 

Wayne Dolcefino arrived at Ambrose’s house to interview him alongside a camera crew. Ambrose declined and called the police in the video. They also went to custody evaluator Jessica Caverly’s office, where they were also refused. The video was posted on YouTube, which included an interview with Riordan, photos of the children, pictures of the GAL, an interview with Nicola Cunha, and video of Judge Adelman’s reappointment hearing before the Judiciary Committee during which he was questioned by now Attorney General William Tong regarding accusations of bias against women.

Dolcefino also notes that the children got messages to him, alleging an abusive environment, but could not say on camera how he received those messages.

Riordan, likewise, also filed lawsuits against Jessica Caverly, the custody evaluator and psychologist, on behalf of herself and her three children for malpractice – a suit that was dismissed by the court and rejected by the appellate court. 

She also filed against Gov. Ned Lamont, DCF Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes, the Chief Administrative Judge for the Judicial Branch and a host of other state officials on behalf of herself and her children. 

In that lawsuit, Riordan sought injunctive custody of the children and a restraining order against Ambrose, arrest of Ambrose and demanding the defendants, including the judicial system, “adhere to the laws and procedures of this state and provide the protection to the applicant and each of the minor children as authorized and mandated by said laws and procedure,” according to the complaint.

That lawsuit was also dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

While the media attention, albeit in rather questionable corners of the media, may have won Riordan supporters and a following, it may have also muddied the waters further in her quest to be reunified with her children. But, to her, the court had already prevented her from seeing her children for several years, there was little more they could do to her – until August 2023, when she was threatened with jail for contempt of court for coercively controlling her children under Jennifers’ Law.

Of course, often lost in this chaotic, extensive, expensive and ongoing case are Mia, Matthew and Sawyer, who have made their wishes known both through their own comments and letters, but also by their actions. They are not believed, however, by the judges, the GAL, the custody evaluator, nor DCF. 

According to the judge’s ruling, they were coercively controlled by Riordan to say these things and to seek out their mother, even after three years of living exclusively with their father. It does raise the question as to when a child’s voice counts in a custody hearing – one that Adelman answered in part in his 2022 ruling.

Adelman points out that under Connecticut statute the court must take into consideration the “informed preferences of the child,” although “informed” is at the court’s discretion. He also points out that, according to case law, age is a factor in whether the child is “informed.”

“Age alone is not the final factor in the analysis,” Adelman wrote. “Often a child might express a clear preference for the less capable parent, a preference dictated by factors other than the child’s best interests. Often a child, for a variety of reasons, is not capable of understanding at the at time what is in his or her best interests.”

“I want to be heard and I want to be with my mom,” Mia said. “I think it’s very disgusting how the court system won’t listen to kids who are able to have a say in a case like this.”

“Me and my brothers are out and we’re going to continue to fight until we get to go back to our mom’s and until everything essentially goes back to normal, our new normal now,” she continued.

Cocchiola believes the family court system needs to do a better job of looking at the dissolving relationship in a more wholistic manner, looking at who was the primary caregiver in the family and listening to the children. 

“At what point does [the children’s] voice count?” Cocchiola said. “I think the issue is that when we have GALs and custody evaluators involved with children the question is are they actually hearing the authentic voices of the children? Of course, children can be trained, indoctrinated to say something, of course they can, but really, I think to the trained eye you can determine if children are.”

“Nobody is looking out for the best interest of these children if they ran away,” Cocchiola said. “If nothing else, if we wanted to believe the best of intentions, they’re older, they run away and they go to the care of the mother and we’re not going say, what’s going on here?”

“This is not new, this happens in Connecticut and all over the country that the wills of the children and the parent they prefer are not respected,” Kamihira said. “So, my opinion of that on its face is that family court does not listen to the will, the voices of the children, and they certainly did not listen to Mia, Matthew and Sawyer because they have maintained the entire time that they prefer to live with their mother.”

But claims of parental alienation are difficult to dispute – denial is not enough, and studies have shown alienation claims by fathers significantly increase their chances of being awarded custody. Lately, the BBC has been delving into Britain’s family court system, finding claims of parental alienation are resulting in tragedy and similar stories are beginning to pop up in the United States as some journalists delve into the parental alienation concept.

Since CII’s interview with Mia, the children have once again fled. This time they left their grandfather’s home in Rhode Island to go to New York with a family friend while Riordan waited to see if she would be held in contempt. Police in New York tracked the children down and questioned them extensively.

They then left that home and began to reside with another family member also in New York. Once again, police and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation were called in to interview the children. Kamihira says her residence was searched by authorities because Riordan had stayed there for a night. In the end, the children were allowed to stay at their family member’s house for the time being after police and federal officials contacted the children’s attorney for their Juvenile Court case.

The court hearing for Riordan’s contempt of a restraining order was held on Sept. 15. Although the judge found Riordan to be in willful contempt, he did not go so far as to place her in jail. However, Riordan says DCF substantiated a complaint against her for emotional and physical neglect of the children, even though she is barred from seeing them, and then contacted her employer to inform them, potentially putting her job at risk. She awaits a second contempt hearing — this time for contempt of a custody order, which could likewise result in jail time. “I’m very worried,” Riordan said in a follow-up email.

For Mia, though, she’s waiting for everything to get sorted out and trying to figure out her next steps, while helping usher her brothers through this tumultuous time in their lives, none of which was their own making.

“DCF and police know where I am, so does my dad, but until we get everything sorted out, we don’t want to be with DCF because we don’t know where they’re going to place us, so this is the safest option,” Mia said. “[Matthew and Sawyer] are good. It’s very stressful for them because, again, they’re not with their mom, so I kinda have to step up and be that almost figure for them to help them along the way I suppose. They’re okay.”

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Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels,...

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  1. I am appalled at the expansion of the definition of domestic violence. It has moved from physical assault to verbal assault to the psychological dimension. Now it’s alienation of affection of child from parent. This confuses everything as there is no clear abuser and victim. Either party can be accused of the same thing as each party “feels” abused. It looks like the Connecticut family court is trying to deal with this insanity. Good luck. At least the father is now recognized as having a say in their children’s lives.

    1. Recognized as having a say? The father here was given full custody on allegations. That is EXACTLY the thing that you are decrying.

  2. My daughter in Connecticut is going through similar case of parental alienation being claimed in a custody fight for her son. She has her PhD in education and while he was in her custody was excelling academically and involved in other sports, taekwondo, etc. Her ex, who has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and who has attended counseling for these issues as well as anger management, was awarded sole legal and physical contact in a court hearing in August, based largely on the representations of the father’s very expensive but well respected, high ranking attorney as well as recommendations of the GAL (who had minimal communication with the child over the course of the past 2 and 1/2 years) who relied primarily on the father’s Reunification Counselor (who was paid by the father’s parents at great expense) and the case decided by Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher. My daughter, an advocate for Gifted and Learning Education, and Educational programs and opportunities for all children, was portrayed as an “out of touch”, “living in her own world”, delusional person. She has exhausted all of her financial resources, including her retirement and any savings, in legal fees as well as counselor/therapy fees. Her ex-husband on the other hand has the deep resources of his parents available for use not only for basic living expenses, but also to keep these legal battles going. Despite her ex-husband’s history of issues, and my grandson’s wishes to remain with his mother, in the home he has known for most of his life, the decision was made to award the father custody – with the child to be picked up from summer camp (with no communication ahead of time preparing him for that), and for No contact of any sort to be allowed between him and his mother for at least the first 90 days. All contact is to be through the Family Court Wizard, which has proven to be a cruel joke. My daughter’s inquiries through the wizard, about her son, have been deemed unnecessary and the attorney for the father has brought motions against her. What society would deem a mother asking how their son’s first day of school went was unnecessary and excessive, or wishing communication of birthday wishes to him? This seems like a form of child abuse and I can’t understand how this level of isolation and separation and no communication between a child and his parent is in any way good.
    It has been appalling to learn of how the family court system in Connecticut cares so little about the best interests of the child, but rather seems focused on maintaining an income stream for attorneys, GAL’s, Reunification and other counselors, etc.

  3. The challenge within the family court system lies in the absence of a clinical perspective when addressing high-conflict cases. In many instances, the root of these conflicts can be traced back to underlying mental health issues. Yet, Attorneys, Guardians ad Litem (GALs), Family Relations, and judges are not educated in mental health. Psychological evaluations can be an option, however, the cost to the parents is so high they opt out. Leaving the latter-mentioned professionals tasked with making best-interest decisions for children. Very broken system.

  4. The Family court has been a problem for sometimes in Connecticut. Is it “managing the insanity” or helping create it? It’s the wild West.

  5. I feel like the lead of this entire article was buried here. Frank Parlato (the guy writing the articles against chris) is in a relationship with the ex-wife, Karen, while writing articles damming Chris? Shouldn’t’ve that have been the lead? Does that sound like a major conflict of interest? And if he lives in Florida (I checked) and she is living with him since he is under House Arrest, then it seems like the father is the only one who is stickling it out to take care of the kids in CT. Right?

  6. “Furthermore, according to the July 2021 email from Riordan to Cunha, it was Cunha who got on the phone with Boyne against Riordan’s wishes.“

    Really? Then how come when Riordan’s phone records were subpoenaed, they revealed over 300 calls with Boyne over a period of a few months? The woman is a horrible liar.

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