• When Custody Battles Turn Evil, Look For A Flying Monkey

    April 10, 2024
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    (A look at the ugly intricacies of custody battles from our sister publication, the Montana Sentinel. --Ed.)

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    There are many kinds of toxic people. Part of Elizabeth Peterson’s job as a Family Court Reform Specialist is identifying toxic people in what lawyers and judges often refer to as a “high conflict” divorce or custody battle.

    Tina Swithin, best-selling author of Divorcing a Narcissist, appears to have coined the phrase “Flying Monkeys” as a description of the person or people behind the scenes controlling the narcissistic or unsafe parent in these hotly contested custody battles.

    “Family Court has become a business in this Country. A custody battle for the safety of your children feels extremely personal to those who have had this unfortunate experience. Still, when you step back and look at it to see what’s going on, you realize how transactional the whole experience is. The Court system views you as a number and your children as nothing more than dollar signs.”

    This is an excerpt from Elizabeth Peterson’s media interview in May 2023, shortly after Governor Gianforte signed HB 322, The Standing Master Reform bill.

    According to the Center for Judicial Excellence, “High conflict” is now regarded as misleading. It only takes one parent who refuses to take responsibility for anything and constantly blames or projects their unhealthy perceptions onto the other parent to create a battleground in court. Suppose the unhealthy parent deploys the legal strategy of throwing the accusation of “parental alienation” into the court. In that case, you often see the protective parent scrambling to keep their children out of harm's way.

    Like most advocates involved in profoundly emotional and troubling topics, it was a personal experience that catapulted people like Elizabeth Peterson and Tina Swithin into their advocacy work. Swithin goes on to explain in an interview that her ex-husband is an incredibly broken person. She describes him with a compassion one wouldn’t expect and simply states that “his wiring left him incapable of doing the right thing or putting anyone’s needs ahead of his own.” She doesn’t believe this is a path he necessarily chose “because no one would willingly choose the path he was on, void of love, connection, and authenticity. This is not a mental illness which would bring with it hope for treatment or medication; this is an untreatable personality disorder.”

    Elizabeth Peterson knows this type of person all too well. Court documents of her divorce and languishing custody battle for the safety of her two daughters go on for 12 years, showing everything from blatant forms of domestic violence resulting in “serious injury,” according to the police reports, to shocking neglect and psychological abuse inflicted on Elizabeth’s children by her ex-husband. If this situation isn’t bad enough for any mother, enter the Flying Monkey and watch how capable these master manipulators are at escalating any situation.

    One of the world’s largest platforms for exposing the failings in our country's family court system recently ran a feature article on Peterson that can be viewed here: https://www.onemomsbattle.com/blog/2h5ose7v1r9qrn1cghbosbh33ya3a3

    Flying Monkeys are in many ways worse than their narcissistic ex-partner. According to Swithin, “calling them “enablers” is letting them off too easily.” These people prey upon anyone who dares to confront their narrative. Peterson explains, “There is no ethical boundary these people won’t cross. Most normal, healthy people are caught off guard when a Flying Monkey becomes part of a custody battle. Children’s safety, the law, and common sense are willingly abandoned when a Flying Monkey sets their calculated and vindictive sights on their target.”

    A Flying Monkey can be anyone from a mother trying to cover up her lazy son's neglect of his children to a friend financially propping up a well-known abuser. Some of the most diabolical Flying Monkeys are court-appointed professionals like financially motivated guardian ad litems and “reunification therapists.” In all cases, it translates into the health and safety of the children involved, taking a backseat to protect the image of the unsafe parent. In Peterson’s case, it was her ex-husband’s girlfriend that court records show poured gasoline on the smoldering custody situation.

    Peterson’s case is one of Montana's most heavily vetted custody cases. Her case has been reviewed by seasoned attorneys from coast to coast and is regularly included in legislative case studies. Danielle Pollock, the lead Policy Manager at the National Family Violence Law Center in DC, stated, “Elizabeth Peterson’s dedication to bringing better child safety laws to Montana is based on her own devastating experience. Her case is a perfect example of how divorcing an abuser does not mean you and your children are free and safe.

    If the judiciary routinely fails family violence survivors such as Elizabeth and her children, legislators who care about children are left with little choice but to enact reasonable protective reforms, which family courts must adhere to. There is no reason children should be forced into unregulated “treatments” and the custody of an abusive party when there is a perfectly safe nurturing home available.”

    Recent media attention on Peterson, coupled with the overwhelming support of her Standing Master Reform bill, has created a new level of attention for this family. This means that Peterson and anyone who supports her must brace for the impact of the Flying Monkeys.

    As some of Montana’s local journalists have experienced firsthand, Peterson’s Flying Monkey, Ronda Black, appears to have nothing better to do than harass with slanderous hate speech. As National journalists have experienced in the past, Black’s assaults are not just about Peterson’s work, which most people view as honorable, but she extends her diatribe to even Peterson’s adult children, who have been brave enough to step forward and share the abuse they endured from their father.

    “It takes a truly diseased mind to concoct and manipulate to the point where reality is replaced with fiction. Victim shaming children to protect an abuser is one of the slimmest forms of abuse,” Peterson points out while sharing video footage from the local police retrieving her ex-husband, Scott Johnson, and his girlfriend, Ronda Black, from hiding in a bathroom at the Bozeman Deaconess Hospital.

    According to the footage, Johnson and Black were at the hospital illegally altering Peterson’s daughter’s HIPAA form to prevent Peterson - the mother - from being able to access her own child’s medical records. Further investigation into the hospital’s records reveals a visit Johnson had taken the minor child to the day before. The sole reason for this doctor appointment shows a plot hatched by Black to get Johnson to seek a maximum level guardian and conservatorship over this child as she was approaching her 18th birthday. “The risk to their image, if my daughter was allowed to speak freely, was so frightening to them that they felt it was worth the risk of breaking Federal law,” Peterson states.

    Currently, an investigation into this crime is underway with the Department of Justice.

    Screenshot of video footage of police retrieving Scott Johnson and Ronda Black from hiding in the hospital’s bathrooms to conceal their alleged illegal actions.

    Despite undeniable evidence of coercive controlling behavior demonstrated by Black throughout court records, emails, and text messages, she still demands attention on herself as some martyr/savior of the family she clumsily tries to control. Her literal demands that the media investigate and “hold Elizabeth accountable” have yielded evidence that this Flying Monkey is desperate and panicking.

    Swithin states, “It is always a red flag when a non-custodial parent becomes heavily entrenched in controlling the custody situation.” Peterson shared six years’ worth of text messages and emails, obviously written by Black, posing as the children’s father. Past court documents show Black constantly texting Peterson’s ex-husband while they were in private mediation together because she couldn’t bear to think a decision could be made without her consent.

     Black’s accusations of Elizabeth Peterson have turned up to be either 100% irrelevant to the custody matter or simply more manipulation of the truth. Peterson’s only response is bewilderment to this latest Flying Monkey attack. “It makes me wonder about the depth of her pathology. It also causes legitimate fear for the safety of my two youngest daughters trapped in a bought-and-paid-for parenting plan that sentenced them to a life of survival in a court-documented abusive home.”

    This nonsensical custody decision was the work of Bozeman, Montana’s notorious Standing Master, Magdalena Bowen. It is this Standing Master who sparked the need for HB 322, The Standing Master Reform Bill, and it was Peterson’s experience, along with dozens of similar horror stories, that caused this bill to pass unanimously in the Montana House of Representatives. More information on Bowen is available through this link.

    In Swithin’s best-selling book, she states:

    “Flying monkeys are challenging to deal with under the best of circumstances, but during a child custody battle with a narcissist, it is incredibly daunting to deal with these master manipulators.

    For me, it was essential to know my truth at such a core level that it became my unshakable foundation - they tried to shake it many times, and they came close. However, my truth was rock solid.”

    Peterson said she feels the same way. “Sunlight is a great disinfectant. Flying Monkeys are always intimidated by truth. They slink around corners and hide in the dark, attempting to keep their manipulation secretive. They scheme and bark orders behind closed doors but are the first and loudest at church to shout “hallelujah” to protect the image they’ve painstakingly crafted.”

    When asked about Black’s recent slanderous attacks on Peterson’s children, she responded.

    “As we observed recently in this case, the best litmus test is to confront a Flying Monkey with the truth and watch their toxicity boil out of them. They can’t help it…their uncontrollable rage festering beneath their carefully constructed façade is nothing more than a fragile ego trying to protect itself. When a person is willing to sacrifice the well-being of a child to prop up their agenda, you know you are dealing with a truly dangerous individual.”

    Peterson has testified at her State Legislature, “There is no such thing as a perfect victim. In this kind of fight, every protective parent has said or done things they regret. But we must stay the course of truth! Convenient or not, facts matter, intentions matter, and all we protective parents can do is pray our children will one day see how we never stopped trying to save them from a Family Court system that failed them.”

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