Council to Endorse Resolution Concerning Custody Disputes

Ana Estevez, with her son Piqui’s ashes
Photo by Harry Yadav

Ana Estevez, the mother of Aramazd Andressian Jr., affectionately known as Piqui, the 5-year-old South Pasadena boy murdered by his father in April of last year, plans to speak to the City Council Jan. 17 about a resolution that was introduced in the House of Representatives on July 24, 2017 that would assert that Congress first and foremost supports the child in courtroom custody disputes. Estevez is seeking endorsement of the resolution by the City of South Pasadena as she looks for local congressional representatives to join the 27 US representatives from around the country who have already signed on as cosponsors.

If passed, H.Con.Res.72 would express “the sense of Congress that child safety is the first priority of custody and visitation adjudications, and that State courts should improve adjudications of custody where family violence is alleged,” according to its current language. Estevez believes that, by passing the resolution, Congress would be taking a critical step toward recognizing the urgency to protect children of divorce from abuse, such as that suffered by her son. According to LA County Sheriff’s Department officials, bitter divorce proceedings between Estevez and Andressian Sr. motivated Sr. to take revenge by taking their son’s life.

Estevez is concerned with the current state of custody proceedings; based on recent experience, she believes judges disregard judicial canons due to the lack of oversight in courtrooms and judicial evaluation system. Canons are guidelines that define judges’ responsibilities. There are 17 states that currently have evaluation systems for judges, but California is not one of them.

Estevez said she experienced this kind of judicial negligence first hand. “One of the canons talks about looking at evidence objectively and fairly,” said Estevez. “My judge didn’t do any of that. At no time did he even question the contradictions between submitted court declarations and evidence.”

According to Estevez, in her ex-husband’s first declaration to the court, he falsely claimed that he was a stay-at-home father and that he took his son to school and doctor’s appointments. “I turned in evidence countering everything that he said,” explained Estevez. “I turned in copies of my son’s attendance log from preschool (which showed that her mom dropped him off and picked him up every day). At no time did the judge ever question inconsistencies in Sr.’s declaration nor did he recognize perjury.”

H.Con.Res 72 recognizes the perceived lack of oversight over state courtrooms, and talks about creating a federally orchestrated hearing process to monitor state courtrooms. Estevez said this is a crucial detail of the resolution because the shortcomings of the legal system, are widespread throughout the country.

Estevez said that she doesn’t know the specifics of how courts would be selected for oversight, but is encouraged by the willingness of Congress to create some sort of oversight system.

This resolution was introduced by representative Patrick Meehan (R–PA) with seven co-sponsors; it now has 27 total sponsors in the House (18 Democrats and 9 Republicans). Of the 53 representatives in California, only 10 have co-sponsored. Estevez hopes that as support grows for H.Con.Res 72, representatives will feel the urgency of this epidemic and become cosponsors. “When representatives see that different cities support legislation at the federal level, it will help to get them on board,” she said.

H.Con.Res 72 cites research that shows that courts “often” put children of divorce at risk by granting unprotected custody to abusive parents and exhibiting an unfortunate tendency to “discount” allegations of child abuse, child sexual abuse and domestic violence by one or both parents. According to the Center for Judicial Excellence, “researchers have documented a minimum of 618 children murdered in the United States since 2008 by a parent involved in a divorce, separation, custody, visitation, or child support proceeding, often after access was provided by family courts over the objections of a protective parent.”

Included in the resolution is concern about the type of evidence admitted into court, with emphasis on “quasi-scientific evidence.” H.Con.Res 72 also discusses so-called expert witnesses, stating that “evidence from court-affiliated or appointed fee-paid professionals” should only be considered if the professional “possesses documented expertise…in the relevant types of abuse.” On this specific point, the resolution goes on to state that the many states that have not defined required standards of expertise and experience for these professionals should do so in order to guarantee the value of the expert. Additionally, in order to ensure the neutrality of the witness, the resolution says that “states should consider models under which court-appointed professionals are paid directly by the court.”

Estevez has also been working alongside the California Protective Parents Association to draft a separate resolution for the State of California. Piqui’s Resolution, as the State resolution will be named, is slated to be introduced at the state level around January or February of 2019. Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D–48th District, CA State Assembly) has agreed to sponsor the resolution. Estevez plans to reach out to California Assembly members and senators to gain their endorsements. 

South Pasadena Chief of Police Arthur Miller is expected to follow the City Council in endorsing H.Con.Res 72 on Jan. 17. With the action, the City will join several other San Gabriel Valley municipalities, as well as Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Congresswoman Judy Chu, Congressman Ted Lieu, and Congresswoman Grace Napolitano in support of the resolution.

Estevez will return to court on Jan. 26, when a trial judge will decide whether Estevez’s ex-husband, who is now serving 25 years to life in High Desert State Prison, is entitled to her retirement and pension, an issue outstanding from the former couple’s divorce proceedings. This hearing is expected to finalize the divorce.